A new study has shown that yeast can produce psilocybin, which is a potential drug for treating psychological conditions such as depression. Psilocybin mushrooms have little harmful effects, and currently, they are riding on the wave of cannabis legalization, but they are still illegal in most jurisdictions.

Psilocybin could potentially treat depression

These magic mushrooms offer a ground-breaking option for depression treatment. Once psilocybin receives approval, it seems yeast could be the most viable commercial production alternative.

Octarine Bio Co-founder and CSO and Ex-Biosustain DTU, Nick Milne, said that extraction of psilocybin from magic mushrooms is currently costly and infeasible. This is because the best chemical synthesis methods need expensive and quite challenging to source starting substrates. Therefore there is a need to lower the cost of production of psilocybin by looking at alternative forms and ensure a consistent supply chain.

There is growing interest in bio-based psilocybin production, and researchers have since demonstrated the possibility of production in E. coli. But bacterial production comes with a wide array of challenges that yeast production can address. Researchers have demonstrated that psilocybin production in yeast can be de novo. This implies that one can produce psilocybin by growing yeast with sugar plus other nutrients without requiring starting substrates.

Using yeast to produce psilocybin averts challenges paused by E. coli

When it comes to the production of psilocybin de novo in E. coli, it is challenging because the primary biosynthesis pathway enzyme does not work in bacteria. Therefore to circumvent this challenge, one will need an expensive starting substrate, making the production process quite costly.

Irina Borodina, the DTU Biosustain group leader, said that the enzyme works well in yeast because it is closely related to the Psilocybe mushroom and yeast. As a result, this offers a more cost effective psilocybin production alternative. Besides, yeast performs well in large scale fermentation because of its history in beer brewing. Another downside with E. coli production is the purification process because the bacteria can produce harmful compounds that might not be necessary for the final product.

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