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Yeast can mimic cannabis compound used in cancer medicine

Yeast can mimic cannabis compound used in cancer medicine

An ingredient found in cannabis that improves HIV and cancer drugs could be replaced with yeast.

Through lab experiments, scientists in Germany have genetically engineered a strain of yeast which makes the plant's primary psychoactive chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC, typically found in marijuana, has already shown benefits when it comes to treating certain medical conditions. The synthetic version, which exists in pill form and is sold under brand names including Cesamet, is used to tackle nausea caused by HIV or cancer therapies.

But using yeast could prove far cheaper than a chemical mixture.

Researchers at the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany, along with firm Hyasynth Bio, had to use an extremely small amount of yeast in the right conditions to form THC.

While this is a breakthrough for HIV and cancer drugs, it still reinforces the notion that cannabis plants are the best producer of THC.

"This is something that could literally change the lives of millions of people," Kevin Chen, chief executive of Hyasynth Bio, told British newspaper The Times.

"People keep asking about it," a researcher chimed in, "but there's bigger potential there than just making a beer."

Not only will the yeast improve the production of THC and cannabidiol [a cannabis compound], it will also allow scientists to look in more detail at how they work. Having worked on the process for some time now, researchers say their aim is to find a method of treatment which is more enhanced than cannabis plants.

Oliver Kayser, a biochemist at the university, adds that European regulators are keen to find a way of supplying THC and cannabinoids without using marijuana.

“They are in fear that these plants will be grown and will support some illegal farming,” he notes.

Dr. Jonathan Page of the University of British Columbia knows there's a big task ahead before they can mass produce.

“Right now, we have a plant that is essentially the Ferrari of the plant world when it comes to producing the chemical of interest,” he added. “Cannabis is hard to beat."

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