Researchers from the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany have engineered yeast to generate some familiar chemicals that are found in marijuana, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is mostly responsible for marijuana’s high, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is thought to hold many therapeutic properties when combined with THC.

And researchers think that it’s just the start. The work could unlock what scientists call the “true potential” for medical marijuana — or for actually deriving medicine from the more than 80 cannabinoids (and more than 500 other chemical compounds) found in the plant.

How it works

Yeast is a tiny microorganism that’s classified as a fungus, which wields a seemingly magical power to consume one substance and turn it into another.

Recently, scientists realized that genetically modified strains of yeast could turn sugar into opiates, essentially making “home-brewed heroin,” much to the consternation of the DEA.

But researchers behind the new discovery aren’t worried that their work could lead to batches of secret, yeast-produced THC for mind-altering fun. “Cannabis is hard to beat” for that, Jonathan Page, a botanist at the University of British Columbia, told The New York Times.

Instead, the scientists who’ve engineered this yeast think they could use this approach to produce any particular marijuana chemical and investigate its medical potential.

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