In the new study published online September 21st by the journal Metabolic Engineering , a team of Miami University researchers have transformed a common bacterial cell into a mass-producing psychedelic ‘drug factory’ producing vast quantities of psilocybin, the exceptionally strong chemical found in ‘magic mushrooms’.
The Magic Of Liberty
Psilocybin can be found in over 100 different species of shrooms worldwide, but most notably in Psilocybe cubensis , otherwise known as “Liberty Cap” or the “Magic Mushroom”. With its thin stem and domed cap, the drug found in this mushroom was abused in the 60s, feared in the 70s, and by 1982 all research into the chemical was banned until 1996 when it was started up again.
While magic mushrooms are best known for, and feared for, inducing mind-altering hallucinations, psilocybin is regarded by scientists as a revolutionary chemical in the treatment of psychiatric conditions including addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depressive disorders, according to the FDA.
But as much as these little organic dream-machines promise to cure the world’s increasing psychiatric disorders, the little devils ask for one thing in return – space – and lots of it. This demand is what inspired the team of scientists who set out to find an efficient method for growing and harvesting psilocybin, rather than farming hundreds of tons of fungi, the authors said in the paper.
The Ancient Origins Of Tripping
Archaeologists point to several ancient sites which determine early consumption of psilocybin, for example, around 10,000 BC in Australia cave paintings suggest mushroom-induced trances were a part of indigenous culture. Furthermore, stones in the North African Sahara painted by aboriginal tribes illustrate the distinctive psychoactive fungi from approximately 9,000 BC and rock art in Spain confirms that 6,000 years ago the Psilocybe hispanica mushroom was being consumed in rituals near Villar del Humo (Cuenca).
Cave paintings in Australia where psychoactive psilocybin was used by ancient people. (Tillman / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Today, the team of researchers used bacteria as a ‘production tool’ for it can be engineered to produce high amounts of chemicals and in this case they specifically manipulated the metabolism of the bacteria Escherichia coli, so that its cells began producing huge quantities of psilocybin, according to a statement from the university.
The Alchemy Of Psychedelic E. coli
These special, truly magic mushrooms, were used continually though the millennia by indigenous tribes all over the world and by 1,500 BC their consumption had become a central part of the rituals and rites of ancient cultures in what is today Mexico, according to a report in Science Alert . The study co-author Andrew Jones is a professor of chemical and biological engineering and in a statement he explained that rather than growing the mushroom for ritual use , the team of scientists carefully extracted DNA from the mushroom that “encodes its ability” to make psilocybin and they inserted this in E. coli and produced multiple strains of “psychedelic E. coli”.
Ancient cultures consumed mushrooms with psilocybin for rituals. (Fufufungi / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Prehistoric psilocybin users were much braver than today’s test subjects who are all vetted for underlying mental health issues prior to application of the magic so that mental and physical changes could be scientifically monitored and assessed. Back in the mushroom shaped temples of Aztec Mexico one was greatly under the spell of the shaman who administered ‘approximate’ doses where consumers might consume between 0.07 to 1.06 ounces (2 and 30 grams) of mushroom, between 1 to 15 doses by today’s standard. While the former dose might instigate endless giggles followed by deep universal insights , the later dose is going to bring you face to face with any creator god you should care to imagine.
Magic E-coli with Psilocybin Might Heal Troubled Minds
In this new study, the psychedelic E. coli was grown under controlled environmental conditions where the genetic engineers could fine tune temperatures and nutrient contents to produce consistently high concentrations of psilocybin. The efficient strain known as “pPsilo16” was finally selected and then mass produced in a bioreactor. Dr. Jones said that over the course of the 18 month-long study the team increased production “by 500-fold”.
E. coli was used to clone and mass produce the DNA of psilocybin. ( motorolka / Adobe Stock)
In conclusion, continuing at least 10,000 years of human tradition the shamans of today are genetic scientists and this team of high priests believe their results provide compelling evidence that psilocybin can be cultivated on an “industrial scale” for application in in psychiatric treatments . This assertion, according to the authors, is based on their magic E. coli producing more psilocybin than any other organism that scientists have retrofitted with psilocybin (magic mushrooms) DNA to date.
Top image: Magic mushrooms contain the chemical psilocybin which cause hallucinogens. Source: Martina / Adobe Stock .
By Ashley Cowie