Research reveals how some mushrooms evolved to be magic

Research over the last few decades has suggested that the compound psilocybin may have a number of therapeutic benefits, with potential to help treat anxiety, depression, and even addiction.

But until now, the ‘recipe’ for psilocybin has remained a mystery.

In a new study, scientists have characterized the four enzymes mushrooms use to make this compound for the first time, setting the stage for pharmaceutical production of the ‘powerful psychedelic fungal drug.’

Scientists have characterized the four enzymes mushrooms use to make psilocybin

After identifying and characterizing the enzymes behind psilocybin, the team from Friedrich Schiller University Jena was able to develop the first enzymatic synthesis of the compound, reports C&EN, a publication from the American Chemical Society.

To get to the correct ‘recipe,’ the team in the new study sequenced the genomes of two mushroom species.

Then, they used engineered bacteria and fungi to confirm gene activity and the order of the synthetic steps, according to C&EN.

Their efforts revealed a new enzyme, dubbed PsiD strips carbon dioxide from the tryptophan, while another adds a hydroxyl group – or, oxygen and hydrogen.  

Another enzyme, known as PsiK acts as a catalyst for phosphotransfer.

Then, an enzyme known as PsiM catalyzes the transfer of methyl groups.

Based on their discovery, the researchers developed a ‘one-pot reaction’ to create psilocybin from 4-hydroxy-L-tryptophan, using three of the enzymes: PsiD, PsiK, and PsiM.

According to the team, the results could now ‘lay the foundation’ for the production of pharmaceutical drugs based on psychedelic mushrooms.