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Metab Eng. 2007 Mar;9(2):169-76. Epub 2006 Nov 6.

Metabolic engineering with a morphine biosynthetic P450 in opium poppy surpasses breeding.

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  • 1Department of Natural Product Biotechnology, Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry, Weinberg 3, D-06120 Halle, Saale, Germany.


Morphine biosynthesis was genetically engineered in an industrial elite line of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum L.), to modify the production of alkaloids in plants. The cytochrome P-450-dependent monooxygenase (S)-N-methylcoclaurine 3'-hydroxylase (CYP80B3) lies on the pathway to the benzylisoquinoline alkaloid branch point intermediate (S)-reticuline. Overexpression of cyp80b3 cDNA resulted in an up to 450% increase in the amount of total alkaloid in latex. This increase occurred either without changing the ratio of the individual alkaloids, or together with an overall increase in the ratio of morphine. Correspondingly, antisense-cyp80b3 cDNA expressed in opium poppy caused a reduction of total alkaloid in latex up to 84%, suggesting that the observed phenotypes were dependent on the presence of the transgene. This study found compelling evidence, that cyp80b3 is a key regulation step in morphine biosynthesis and provides practical means to genetically engineer valuable secondary metabolites in this important medicinal plant.

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