Source: CSIRO Australia Morphine-free poppy
A handful of genes in a morphine free poppy could hold the key to producing improved pain management pharmaceuticals. Norman, the 'no-morphine' poppy, is superior to morphine producing poppies as it produces thebaine and oripavine – compounds preferred by industry in the manufacture of alternative high value pain-killers. CSIRO's Dr Phil Larkin, and The Australian National University's Anthony Millgate and Dr Barry Pogson have been working with Tasmanian Alkaloids to investigate Norman the morphine-free poppy. "The genes we found behaved differently in Norman compared to standard morphine producing poppies and were consistently associated with the blockage in morphine synthesis and with the accumulation of thebaine and oripavine," Dr Larkin says. "Understanding the genes responsible for the production of morphine, thebaine and oripavine is an important step in further developing poppies that are tailored to produce alternative pharmaceuticals."
The morphine free poppy variant, TOP1, was first discovered in 1995 by Tasmanian Alkaloids then released as Norman for commercial production in 1997 in Tasmania where it is now widely grown. "Norman created substantial industry growth when there was a surplus of traditional products, such as morphine, allowing us to supply raw materials for the manufacture of other pharmaceutical ingredients," says Tasmanian Alkaloids' Manager of Agricultural Research, Dr Tony Fist. Tasmania already grows over 40 per cent of the world's legal poppy crops and Norman will ensure Tasmania stays an international leader in pharmaceutical development from poppy compounds. This research is supported by voluntary contributions from industry with matched funding for R&D from the Australian Government through HAL and is a collaboration between CSIRO Plant Industry, The Australian National University, Tasmanian Alkaloids, Institute for Plant Biochemistry (Germany) and the University Halle (Germany). The paper 'A morphine-free mutant of opium poppy – changing the poppy analgesic industry' was published in the 23 September 2004 edition of Nature and is available online at www.nature.com.