Scientists genetically engineer E. coli to produce the psychedelic psilocybin

Finally, researchers are again exploring the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics to treat the likes of depression, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. To provide pharmaceutical-quality compounds for clinical trials, scientists are developing new ways to produce the psychedelics. Chemical engineers at Miami University in Ohio have now genetically engineered E. coli to crank put psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms. From Scientific American:

The modified microbes generated up to 1.16 grams of psilocybin per liter of culture medium—the highest yield to date from any engineered organism and a 10-fold increase over the next best attempt. Scaled up, the new method could produce psilocybin for potential therapeutic use.

“The number-one advantage is it's simply cheaper” than—or at least cost-competitive with—other methods, says lead study author Alexandra Adams, an undergraduate student in chemical engineering at Miami University in Ohio...

Adams and her colleagues engineered E. coli that incorporated three genes from the Psilocybe cubensis mushroom, enabling the bacteria to synthesize psilocybin from the cheap and easily obtainable precursor molecule 4-hydroxyindole, and then they optimized the process to produce the drug on a larger scale.