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Scientists Engineer Yeast To Produce THC

Yeast the sugar-gobbling microorganism that is the staple of life: used to make bread, beer, and wine.

Now, researchers from the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany have engineered yeast to generate some notable chemicals in marijuana, including THC, which is mostly responsible for the marijuana’s high, and cannabidiol.

Responsible for the majority of marijuana’s psychological effects – including the high – THC can also be use to treat symptoms of HIV infection and chemotherapy and researchers are hoping their yeast will be able to pump it out more efficiently than producing synthetic versions.  However, these teams already have some stiff competition from an unexpected source — the marijuana plant itself. Some strains of the marijuana plant are bursting with THC, with up to 30 percent THC per dry weight. Called the “the Ferrari of the plant world” by Anandia Laboratories founder Dr. Jonathan Page, it appears the marijuana plant is hard to beat.

The entire process of engineering THC would start with simple sugars — or chapter 1 — rather than precursors to complete the entire chemical pathway that the marijuana plant does naturally. However, scientists believe they’ll get to that point and scale up production for industrial use in the near future, the New York Times reports.

The New York Times report also suggests they’ve reportedly managed to to use yeast to produce cannabidiol in the same way, but are yet to publish the details. The big challenge now will be figuring out how to replace these molecules with a raw material such as sugar to make the process cheap, easy, and commercially competitive.

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