Friday, November 9, 2018 at 12:20pm
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Epimeron Inc., Calgary, Alberta, Canada
The cultivation of opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) remains the only commercial source for the narcotic analgesics morphine and codeine, and feedstock compounds used to produce semi-synthetic opiates including the widely prescribed painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone, and the opioid antagonists naltrexone and naloxone. By quickly reversing the effects of an overdose, naloxone has become indispensible in the battle against the current opioid epidemic in North America. Opium poppy is a classic example of dual-use technology since morphine derived from the illicit cultivation of the plant is easily converted to heroin, which has had negative impacts on humankind for more than a century. Opium poppy also produces other important benzylisoquinoline alkaloids including the cough suppressant and potential anticancer drug noscapine, the vasodilator papaverine, and the antimicrobioal agent sanguinarine. More than a half-century of research has led to a remarkable appreciation for the biochemistry of benzylisoquinoline alkaloid metabolism. The continued elucidation of alkaloid biosynthetic pathways and associated physiological mechanisms in opium poppy is essential for the development of new commercial production technologies in plants and microorganisms. Recent research progress on alkaloid biosynthesis in opium poppy will be presented with a focus on the discovery of novel, and often unanticipated, parts and processes essential to unlocking the biotechnological potential of an important medicinal plant.