A team of researchers is using the infectious bacterium E. coli to produce Psilocybin, the main ingredient of hallucinogenic “magic mushrooms”.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterium that can cause intestinal infections and urinary infections. Scientists are now modifying it to produce Psilocybin – the main ingredient in "magic mushrooms" – which produces effects such as hallucinations and sensory disturbances and can be found in certain mushroom species.
Researchers have discovered in Psilocybin medicinal uses, serving to treat depressions and even nicotine addictions. Because cultivating these mushrooms can take months, synthetic production of Psilocybin is much more viable for pharmaceutical uses. This is where E. coli comes in.
According to Scientific American, the modified bacteria generates up to 1.16 grams of psilocybin per liter. This is the highest yield ever achieved from any manipulated organism.
In addition to being easier to manipulate, "the number one advantage is that it's simply cheaper" than any other method, explains the author of the study to be published next year in Scientific American's journal Alexandra Adams. Scientists were also able to streamline the process so that it could produce this psychedelic drug on a larger scale.
Dirk Hoffmeister, who had already used other ways to make this hallucinogenic, says this is an intriguing alternative that shows "the power and possibilities of synthetic biology." However, the microbiologist emphasizes that during the process toxic and allergenic microbial materials may be produced.
“If it's approved for everything being tested, it's a significant proportion of the population,” says biological engineer Andrew Jones, who was not involved in this study.
E. coli has also been used to make environmentally friendly jeans. When modified in the laboratory, the bacteria can replace indigo, the most commonly used dye to color denim.