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June 13, 1980

California team manipulates bacteria to mass-produce natural opiate

JAMA. 1980;243(22):2273-2274. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300480003001

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The A. he young but vigorous discipline of gene cloning took another leap last month with the announcement that the naturally occurring neuropeptide β-endorphin has been produced by bacterial cultures.

At the meeting of the Association of American Physicians in Washington, DC, John Baxter, MD, reported that he and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have also confirmed the chemical identity of the β-endorphin that was produced and have demonstrated its biological activity in two standard in vitro assays.

Since shortly after the discovery of β-endorphin in 1976, psychiatrists and behavioral scientists have been eager to study its effects on pain and depression in humans. On the basis of Baxter's preliminary report, it appears that bacterial synthesis can provide enough material for these studies.

β-Endorphin is only the second substance produced by gene cloning methods for which biological activity has been shown. The first was interferon (JAMA