Hoffmeister says the finding could theoretically make the mass-production of psilocybin easier and less expensive, though he expects “it will take quite some effort until we make headway.” He also notes that this scientific study was done for the purpose of better understanding nature’s “elegant” way of making psilocybin, and is not intended as “a ‘drug endorsement’ or “get-high-quick” kind of thing.” Using naturally occurring enzymes would avoid the expensive and difficult biochemical tools currently required to make the compound.
In another study published this month in the online journalbioRXiv, though not yet peer-reviewed, researchers sequenced genomes from three different mushroom species and found the cluster of psilocybin-producing genes in each. The way the small cluster apparently traveled between species, without alteration, suggests that it was passed through a peculiar process called horizontal gene transfer. In this process, a gene can literally move between different species by physical contact, Sherman explains. This transfer could have happened when, for example, a spore of a psilocybin-producing mushroom physically landed on top of another mushrooms species, and was incorporated into its genome, Sherman says. Because the gene cluster is so small, it can be absorbed and then passed on.
Sherman says horizontal gene transfer of psilocybin-producing genetic bits still happens and will likely enable more mushrooms to produce this psychedelic compound.
Its wide distribution in unrelated species and endurance over time suggests that the psilocybin gene may give mushrooms a survival advantage, says Jason Slot, an assistant Professor at the Ohio State University and study lead author. Other research shows that psilocybin confuses predators by mimicking the neurotransmitter serotonin, and that its effects in humans is an coincidental byproduct of this ability.
Sherman marveled at how simple it is for mushrooms to make psilocybin, especially considering many useful compounds like antibiotics—derived from fungi and bacteria—take more than 50 steps. “Mother nature makes it quite elegantly,” Hoffmeister says.
Source – NewsWeek