back to article Boffins put the FUN into fungus by rigging yeast to squirt out the active ingredients in cannabis

Synthetic biology boffins at Berkeley have taken their research to new highs by rigging up yeast so it produces cannabis compounds – not beer. The group, led by Jay Keasling at the University of California, Berkeley, tweaked brewers' yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, so it makes both the mind-altering and vanilla – er, we mean …

  1. Julz
    Pint

    Strange Brew

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_NholHANoY

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    What else do we use yeasts for ? ...

    making beer. Pubs selling ales made with that yeast would be on to a winner.

    Also for making bread - now that shows that the scientists were using their loaf!

    1. MrDamage

      Re: What else do we use yeasts for ? ...

      I'll be honest. The first thing that went through my mind as I was reading the article, was the extra dimension this yeast would bring to my humble home brew operation.

      Note: I do already have a recipe for a Gunja Beer, but seeing as it calls for 1kg of greenery for just a 20 litre batch, I'm hoping the cost if this yeast would be a far cheaper option.

    2. Velv Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: What else do we use yeasts for ? ...

      Also for making bread

      Poppy seed bread? How to fail your company drugs test even faster

    3. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: What else do we use yeasts for ? ...

      It occurs to me that such bread, when left to rise, would get really high.

  3. MiguelC Silver badge

    Cause and cure?

    If scientist can make yeast that leavens dough and creates THC in it, they'll have a real winner on their hands, a cake that both gives and cures the munchies!

    1. Ima Ballsy
      Holmes

      Re: Cause and cure?

      Even better, modify the bacteria in the GUT to create THC so every time you eat, you get high ....

    2. Bilious
      Trollface

      Re: Cause and cure?

      The article states that both the psychoactive substances are synthesised as the respective carboxylic acid precursors. They need roasting to become the active stuff (with carbon dioxide leaving), so bread is a relevant vehicle for the oral enjoyment. IIRC the temperature for decomposing the precursors is somewhere around 130 degrees Celcius. Activating the substances in beer requires a very strong autoclave, and you mustn't filter away the yeast.

      Anyway, the yields are low. It's probably cheaper and quicker to use imported products from third-world agriculture - if the channels remain open. Commercially I don't think it has much of a chance - except in the UK after the no-deal Brexit.

      1. Spherical Cow

        Re: Cause and cure?

        I bake sourdough at an initial oven temperature of 210 (then lower to 190) which is way above the required 130. But I suspect only the very surface of the crust actually gets that hot, because the bread is still moist when taken out of the oven.

        1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

          Re: Cause and cure?

          If you steam cooked bread fully at 130 in an industrial autoclave you wouldn't suffer from a soggy bottom ... however you'd probably need the services of a dentist to eat it ...

          Mary Berry's new "Crunchy Seeds and THC Bread" recipe ... somehow I think she'd appreciate that :-)

  4. knarf

    My homebrew beer will get popular

    honest I'm not drunk....

  5. Nightkiller

    Looks like the next Heisenberg is coming from a genetics background.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Baking Bad?

  6. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I can't be the only one who has suspected this would happen for some time - the progression of genetic science has more or less obeyed Moore's law. That's not to diminish the fine work of these researchers who have encountered hurdles and overcome them.

    Yeast being yeast, it's hard to see how this can be put to use at scale without the lab assistant or cleaner accidently on purpose taking some spores home with them.

    What is scary is imagining the day when an off the shelf tabletop machine lets a mediocre and ill intentioned individual take the genes from a high mortality virus and put them into a highly contagious air born virus.

    1. Filippo

      There are ways to make sure GM microbes can't survive out of the lab. I guess they could evolve their way out of it in theory, but in practice you can arrange things so that it's extremely unlikely.

      Even if that happened, out of the lab the THC yeast would be competing with wild-type yeast, and I'm pretty sure the wild-type yeast would win easily. If metabolising sugar into THC instead of alcohol was practical for survival, some wild-type microbe would be doing it already.

      I agree, however, that we should be scared at the idea of someone whipping up something extremely dangerous on purpose. That's only going to become easier and there's not much anyone can do about it.

      1. Spherical Cow

        "out of the lab the THC yeast would be competing with wild-type yeast, and I'm pretty sure the wild-type yeast would win easily"

        Absolutely. Ethanol is toxic to most microorganisms, so wild yeast has evolved a major advantage: it produces and tolerates ethanol.

    2. Duffy Moon

      "What is scary is imagining the day when an off the shelf tabletop machine lets a mediocre and ill intentioned individual take the genes from a high mortality virus and put them into a highly contagious air born virus."

      My understanding is that once a virus mutates to become more virulent, it also becomes less contagious.

      Given the current state of climate breakdown and the ongoing mass extinction event, I think we'll have wiped ourselves out before such easy virus weaponising becomes an issue.

      1. knottedhandkerchief

        "My understanding is that once a virus mutates to become more virulent, it also becomes less contagious." - evolution doesn't care about the effects, it's unthinking. Something could mutate to kill 100% of its target, thereby killing itself, and not "care".

        A highly virulent virus (as in the case of HIV) can become less virulent over time, as by killing fewer of its targets it succeeds in spreading further (not necessarily by being more contagious, just by the host living for longer, so has more chance of spreading the disease).

  7. chivo243 Silver badge
    Holmes

    lots of heat, light and water.

    hmm, like outdoors? Wasn't there a Cheech and Chong movie that showed how this was done?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: lots of heat, light and water.

      I was just thinking that this story would make a good Cheech and Chong film. It would have to involve lots of actually getting stoned of course.

    2. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: lots of heat, light and water.

      I assume, in the context of making marijuana for research purposes, that the institutions would be using hydroponics to locally make it at the institution.

    3. Christoph Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: lots of heat, light and water.

      Yes, why not get it from one of the places it grows naturally without needing any input at all?

      "Well, I may be crazy, but I think not.

      I'd swear to God that I smell pot.

      But who'd have pot in Vietnam?

      He said, "What do you think you're sittin' on?"

      These funny little plants, thousands of them.

      Good God Almighty... Pastures of Plenty!"

      -- Tom Paxton, Talking Vietnam Pot Luck blues

    4. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: lots of heat, light and water.

      Dave's not in!

  8. AceRimmer1980
    Linux

    Vicious cycle

    Watch out if you feel the need to scoff down on moon-muffins..

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Vicious cycle

      The Lotus eaters had that problem!

  9. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    And that's how civilisation will end

    The modified DNA escapes the lab and gets incorporated into every green plant until the entire human race just sits around feeling good about things. Till they don't when the food runs out.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: And that's how civilisation will end

      The He-La cell line is notorious for breaking out of sealed containers and contaminating everything else in the lab it's in, and it's proper cell-sized! Yeast cells are 100-ish times smaller.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: And that's how civilisation will end

        Do we have evidence they escaped an unhandled gas-tight container or was it mainly the result of mishandling?

    2. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: And that's how civilisation will end

      Would it be some kind of Serenity?

  10. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
    Happy

    rigging up yeast so it produces cannabis compounds

    Is anyone surprised that it's at Berkeley?

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: rigging up yeast so it produces cannabis compounds

      Is anyone surprised that it's at Berkeley?

      Surely to be properly Berkeleyish it should be a yeast that produces LSD?

    2. A.P. Veening

      Re: rigging up yeast so it produces cannabis compounds

      "Is anyone surprised that it's at Berkeley?"

      As a matter of fact, I am. I would have expected it to occur in Wageningen, at the Dutch Agricultural University, especially given their past record of improving THC production in cannabis.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: rigging up yeast so it produces cannabis compounds

      Hopefully research is released on the BSD licence

    4. TimMaher

      Re: rigging up yeast so it produces cannabis compounds

      As soon as you mentioned Berkeley I thought of Denzil Dexter.

      Have an up vote.

  11. MadonnaC
    Mushroom

    Self Rising brownies*

    *for various definitions of rising

    >>> Eat This icon, because that's really what you should be doing with the brownies.

  12. Jay Lenovo Silver badge

    Just a matter of time before your local "grow light" store will start carrying bread-makers.

  13. bollos
    Angel

    not entirely true..

    "Growing marijuana is also an incredibly intensive, expensive and environmentally unfriendly process that needs lots of heat, light and water."

    only for smelly. normal green can grow outside. ask the park rangers in america who are continaully destroying guerilla grows..

    1. gizmo17

      Re: not entirely true..

      Re: "Growing marijuana is also an incredibly intensive, expensive and environmentally unfriendly process that needs lots of heat, light and water."

      Couldn't the same be said about growing tomatoes? I'm genuinely curious here - where's the intensive, expensive. and environmental unfriendliness part?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: why go to America ?

      There are weekly "busts" from the UK plod coming across a few plants in a woods and calling it a "forest".

      given hemp is probably the most perfect way to break up clay soil, fix nitrogen in soil and provide compost for soil (it's an annual so once grown would need reseeding) the lack of initiatives towards natural farming with hemp leaves me deeply cynical about "organic farming". I suspect the most organic thing is the price tag.

  14. Zebo-the-Fat

    Mmmm... fun buns!

  15. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Go

    Far out man!

    I'm looking forward to Mega-Marmite. Yum!

  16. Pen-y-gors Silver badge
    Joke

    Investment advice

    Buy Demtrix NOW!

    (Technically this needs a joke alert, as I am not a licensed financial advisor)

  17. Dacarlo
    Holmes

    If only...

    ...HMG stopped all the tyranny and bullshit and let us have weed legally.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: If only...

      Whose husband has investments in proprietary cannabinoid producers that make a product so expensive NICE won't fund it? Follow the money.

  18. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Darn academics...

    "That means academics are on the lookout for cheap, pure sources of the cannabinoids."

    If they want the good s--t, they just need to go off campus. What you're looking for is usually behind frat row. Short haircut, souped up Honda product with really nice rims.

    Do not under any circumstances do business with a guy in an American car. No matter how chill he looks, he's a cop.

    Now for good crank, you gotta stay on campus and go to...

  19. LoPath
    Trollface

    Young Einstein

    But did they try splitting the beer atom?

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