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RNAi turns poppies off morphine

Hairpin RNA used to disrupt morphine pathway with surprising, and useful, results

Charles Choi(cqchoi@nasw.org)

For the first time, scientists have reported that RNA interference can be used to redirect the opium poppy away from generating morphine to manufacturing precursors of potential new drugs.

"This approach makes it possible to force accumulation of other interesting molecules which could be of value in the pharmaceutical industry," study coauthor Philip Larkin at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Plant Industry in Canberra, Australia, told The Scientist. His group's research appears in the December issue of Nature Biotechnology.

The enzymology of the entire morphine pathway is largely elucidated, but virtually nothing is known of what regulates the accumulation of morphine and its intermediates in poppies. Larkin and colleagues employed RNA interference to silence codeinone reductase (COR), the penultimate enzyme in morphine biosynthesis, and shed light on pathway controls.

The researchers incorporated regions of complementary DNA from all seven members of the multigene family encoding COR...

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