A series of bizarre events and biological errors over evolutionary history were responsible for the intoxicating medicines found inside the humble poppy, new research published in Science reveals.
[A] team of researchers from China, Britain and Australia have unveiled the complete poppy genome, while also delving into it to understand the origin of opiates. And therein lies a tale.
The evolutionary tale behind morphinans, involves deletion, fusion and duplication. In fact, the poppy genome has duplicated itself entirely, not once, but twice. At least.
Lead author Li Guo, from the Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, and colleagues argue that the noscapine branch component of the BIA gene cluster came into being after an ancient “whole genome duplication” (WGD) that occurred some 110 million years ago, before the poppy family split from the order of Ranunculales, a larger group that contains flowers such as buttercups and columbines.
The genes responsible for the morphinan branch compounds, however, came about through a more recent WGD event that took place only 7.8 million years ago.
More important than these, however, is STORR itself – a fusing of two separate genes to form a single novel one.
These evolutionary contingencies not only provide an understanding of the lineage of the poppy, but also provide a window into the chemistry of opiates.
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