In a ground-breaking study scheduled for publication in Metabolic Engineering in December 2019, researchers reveal they have successfully produced psilocybin from the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli).1 This is the first time psilocybin has been produced from a prokaryotic organism (prokaryotes are single-celled organisms with no membrane-bound nucleus or other organelles).
After engineering the E. Coli to produce psilocybin, the researchers optimized and improved the biosynthesis pathway by evaluating several gene optimization techniques. In the end, they achieved a 32-fold improvement in psilocybin titer (concentration), reaching 1.16 g/L. This is the highest psilocybin production titer achieved so far from a recombinant organism.
The authors say this work is “a significant step towards demonstrating the feasibility of industrial production of biologically-derived psilocybin.”
Clinical trials currently use synthetic psilocybin which is expensive and difficult to manufacture. In time, this new biosynthetic production platform may provide a less expensive and more efficient way to produce psilocybin for these trials. However, it is important to remember that psilocybin is only one of several compounds that occur naturally in psilocybin mushrooms (aka magic mushrooms or psychedelic mushrooms). Scientists have also found compounds such as psilocin, baeocystin, norbaeocystin, aeruginascin, and norpsilocin in magic mushrooms. Studying and understanding all of the compounds found in magic mushrooms and how they work together (aka the entourage effect) may result in formulations that have different properties (and therefore different effects) than pure psilocybin or magic mushrooms.