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Crop Biotech Update

Danforth Center Researchers Study Opium's Atomic Structure

January 21, 2011

Scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center are investigating the ability of opium poppy to produce morphine, one of the most frequently used medicine worldwide. Dr. Toni Kutchan and his team produced, purified, and crystallized an enzyme used in opium's biosynthetic pathway to understand it in the atomic level.

"This may be the first time an enzyme from the opium synthetic pathway has been able to be crystallized for these kinds of structural studies," said Kutchan. "Opium may be one of the oldest medicinal plants but we are now discovering more about its pathway to enable the development of alternate sources of known pharmaceuticals and of novel drugs."

On the other hand, Dr. Thomas Smith and his team of researchers used X-ray crystallography to locate all the atoms in the enzyme. They found out that the enzyme acts in a ‘pacman' fashion, with its mouth opening and closing as the enzyme catalyzes its reaction.

Results of these studies could be used in manipulating enzymes to produce new and novel therapeutics.

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