Humans have been turning to the poppy plant to get high or relieve pain for thousands of years. And despite all our other staggering pharmaceutical progress, our reliance on the plant hasn’t changed much; poppies are used to make two of the world’s most widely used painkillers, morphine and codeine, and the cough suppressant noscapine.
But how did the opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum) get its pain-relieving properties to begin with?
A team of researchers in the United Kingdom, China and Australia has been digging into this question for the past several years, examining the opium poppy genome to figure out how this plant developed its unusually potent and useful therapeutic properties. Now, a new study, published today (Aug. 30) in the journal Science, details the majority of the opium poppy genome. The study highlights when and how the key pharmaceutical-producing genes came into play. [10 Interesting Facts About Heroin]