Morphine from BioSludge: Not Yet, But Soon

As drug geeks have already seen, in May and June 2015, a bunch of news came out of a publication of, perhaps, the final genetic puzzle piece to be able to engineer custom organisms (such as yeasts, slimes, goops, and other things that grow well in petri dishes and buckets) that could produce morphine.

The puzzle pieces have not all been assembled yet to prove that the puzzle has been solved, but it appears close enough that we added a Bioengineering section to our Poppy Vault as a place to keep track of the progress.

The global pharmaceutical industry has been designing organisms, altering DNA and RNA, to act as microbial factories to perform steps of synthetic chemistry since around 1980 (see Goeddel D, et al. 1978). So the technologies necessary to insert genes into microbes and use them to generate, synthesize, or convert one chemical to another are becoming fairly mature.

As Robert Service, an author at ScienceMag writes:

With the last piece of the puzzle now in hand, Dueber says the challenge will be to express the genes for the full synthetic pathway into yeast. That’s a “considerable” hurdle, Dueber says, but likely doable within a few years. Even when that’s done, the microbes will still likely only make vanishingly small quantities of the final medicines. So then the task will be to increase the efficiency of each of the steps. That, too, is likely not an insurmountable challenge. (

The two primary law enforcement implications of this technology are the future simplification of disallowing natural poppy growing and the problem of having morphine as a possible home brew drug. If in vitro morphine production is successful, the giant, legal poppy fields used to generate the source material for some of the most popular pharmaceuticals in the world could be eliminated. That would allow global drug enforcement agencies to outlaw all poppy fields, making them easier to police and destroy.

But the other edge of that technology is that it makes it possible and even likely that there will be dark and gray market availability of engineered organisms that generate morphine or related compounds. Currently, the global heroin and oxycodone markets depend on massive grow operations in remote locations. 20-40 years from now, it could nearly all be switched over to vat and bucket sourced molecules.

MSM Trace in MDMA Sample?

A visitor asked about result 3669. This result was determined by DDL via GC/MS to contain primarily MDMA but also a trace amount of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). MSM has some practical applications in the final crystallization of some recreational stimulants (notably methamphetamine) but could also be used as a bulking agent to boost retail profits.

The visitor wanted to know how sure we are that the MSM was only a trace and not a more major component of the sample. Here’s an answer from our lab trying to address the issue:

There are numerous complications when asking how certain the ‘trace’ finding is for MSM in the testing process.

First, DDL has never done a quantitative analysis of MSM using our testing process. So our methods for analyzing MSM have not been validated by our team.

It could be that it might take a little more MSM to show up compare to say meth or MDMA, since MSM is a much smaller compound. We don’t know this for certain and would need to spend time verifying it if this is important to the project.

Second, MSM is easily detected and seen. We know it shows up we have detected it in many samples over the years.

Third, although we do not know for certain how a known quantity of MSM mixed uniformly with a known quantity of MDMA would show up in our GC/MS, it is hard to imagine the trace we saw with this sample representing more than a tiny amount in the actual sample analyzed.

Fourth, process issues it is possible that the sample submitted contained more MSM proportionally than we reported due to process issues. It could be that the sample might not be homogenized. If a baggie or capsule is filled with MSM and Meth, but wasn’t thoroughly mixed when filled, and when we open the capsule a pour a good representative amount to use, maybe there’s more MSM powder at the end of the capsule. Or perhaps MSM is not homogenized on a sample tablet when a good portion is scraped off or a portion broken off and crushed for analysis.

If we were primarily concerned about homogenization, we would dissolve the entire sample in a solvent, but we don’t do this for several reasons. We don’t want to use up the whole sample on the first attempt because a sample may not dissolve perfectly in the first solvent we choose or we may need to re-evaluate the analytical process from scratch and we would not want to add a solvent to all of the powder if we can avoid it. There are more reasons to keep the original solid sample than there are to homogenize the whole thing.

Fifth, one thing is certain, we can’t be certain. The way each drug appears using each analytical technique different. Because of this, quantitative analysis of drugs in forensic toxicology typically involves very technical development of validated processes using the drugs in their deuterated forms as internal standards.

So, there are numerous variables that may explain it only being trace relative to other drugs. Most likely, the sample only contained a tiny amount of MSM, but without further analysis this point, there’s no way to be certain.

Trying New Spot Plate Methods

We’ve been trying to come up with better ways to do and photograph the spot plate reagent field tests for the variety of chemicals. Both the ones sold as ecstasy/molly and the wide variety of substances and pharmaceuticals that people send in for analysis.

The solid ceramic spot plate we’ve been using for the last 15 years makes it so the colors are hard to see in darker reactions.

So we’ve been hunting down translucent glass plates but haven’t found many. We would like one that we can use AND recommend to Erowid visitors around the world they can buy for a reasonable price.

Here are some photos comparing the translucent spot plate with the opaque one.

Old spot plate:

lightbox test
A drop of marquis reagent on some random aminated oxygenated phenethylamine-ish chemical.
lightbox test
A drop of marquis reagent on some random aminated oxygenated phenethylamine-ish chemical.

Perhaps the most interesting is that all three of these color spots are Marquis + the same chemical. The right hand spot is the oldest (over an hour since drop), the left one is maybe 30+ minutes, and the top middle one was dropped within a minute. This chemical starts off as a grey purple, to a very dark nice blue purple, then goes to a dark blue, then winds up in this greenish gray color.

lightbox test
A drop of marquis reagent on some random aminated oxygenated phenethylamine-ish chemical.

Main Extracts 27 Sprint Final Night: Snacks, Vitamins, Calcium Carbonate, and an Anxiolytic

All praise to a finger of Laphroaig 10.

Served with a some B-vitamins, a couple grams of amino acids, boysenberry-flavored calcium carbonate, and chunks of two flavors of Strong and Kind bars: Jalapeno and Mustard.

Blood Sugar, Acid, and Stress Moderators
Blood Sugar, Acid, and Stress Moderators

The last few days of getting the newsletter ready for the printer are always stressful. One develops coping strategies.

Friday Night Bug Fixing and Random Noodling

I spent a pleasant few hours this evening going through my to do list and clearing out easy micro bugs, including weird little issues in the donations area that only affect a small number of folks.

Fire updated the donations area for the higher level donations to make sure that Solve Et Elucido is showing up properly. We’re very happy with Vibrata’s artistic play on the Erowid logo and really like the small 12×12 inch (30x30cm) size.

Solve Et Elucido in hand
Solve Et Elucido in hand

We know it’s out of the price range of most of our supporters, but one of the curious things about trying to fundraise for a non-profit is the need to have items available at a number of levels. So, along with creating a new Drug Geek shirt and working on stickers for normal supporters, we have to work on developing unique items that can be available only to people able to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Today I also fixed a couple of small issues in the Experience Vaults that was causing certain types of reports marked for Admin Attention to get lost because they fell out of the review process into a bucket that was rarely looked at by the team, instead of having reports highlighted.

Erowid Crew Blog

The Erowid team has used a lot of different communication methods for internal and external info over the years, but we’ve never had a public crew blog. We’ve had a dozen wikis, a number of blogs, CRM ticketing systems, email, forums, Twitter, plain text, HTML, absurdly complicated database systems, IRC, other chat formats, posting through other organization’s publications and systems, interviews, and conferences.

The plan is to use this crew blog as a random mix of items that will provide additional public visibility of what it is we’re working on. It is likely to be extremely boring, mixed with rants, system updates, and commentary about anything the main Erowid crew decides to post.

We will, as always, try to keep the tone respectful and upbeat, but most of us can’t actually contain our disdain for people, organizations, and publications that lie publicly. Personal attacks are off limits except for critiques of top-tier public officials who abuse their bullypulpits.