Psychedelic Strawberries? – Part Two

strawberry (CC BY-SA 2.0) by sethoscope

Psychedelic Biosynthesis.

As noted in the previous post, the psychedelic compound psilocybin, naturally produced by “magic mushrooms“, has recently been biosynthesized “in high yields” in the laboratory via genetic engineering (see Ref. 1 below).

By first isolating the genes involved in psilocybin biosynthesis from “magic mushrooms” in the genus Psilocybe, these investigators subsequently transferred these genes to the fungus Aspergillus nidulans, which expressed them in concert to produce psilocybin.

In the conclusion to this report, they mentioned that the heterlogous expression of the genes involved in psilocybin biosynthesis could also be achieved in other organisms.

One of the organisms in which this would likely work is a commonly-grown, garden plant in the genus Fragaria, namely, the strawberry.

Why Strawberries?

Because strawberries are one of the most popular fruits worldwide, and also an important high-value crop (see Ref. 2, e.g.), we know a lot about the biology of this plant.

For example, the biochemistry of why a strawberry smells like a strawberry is fairly well understood. (Please also see Ref. 3 below.)

And because of their relatively high commercial value, strawberries have attracted a lot of attention from plant breeders. Because of this, large amounts of information exists regarding the genetics of both domesticated and wild varieties of the strawberry, including successful protocols for the genetic transformation and heterologous gene expression in strawberry varieties (see, e.g., Ref. 4 below).

Thus, it’s now probably feasible to genetically transform strawberries with the fungal genes for the biosynthesis of psilocybin in order to use this fruit as a psychoactive drug-delivery vehicle.

Is this a completely crazy idea?

Well, probably, but the idea of using plants as edible vaccines, for example, has been around for decades.

Consider, also, that the most common current sources of psilocybin are the so-called “magic mushrooms“. Although there are guides to distinguish these hallucinogenic species (see here, for example) from other (sometimes deadly) little brown mushrooms, collecting and eating hallucinogenic mushrooms is risky business, besides being currently illegal. (And psychedelic strawberries would almost certainly be much better tasting.)

Anyway, despite all the potential legal, regulatory, and technical obstacles, and questions regarding psilocybin dosage, etc., it’s fun to imagine eating genetically-engineered “magic” strawberries as a clinical (and recreational?) source of psilocybin.

Since this mind-altering drug has sometimes been described by users as awakening them to a new reality, perhaps we could refer to my hypothetical psychedelic strawberries as a “strawberry alarm clock“.


1. Hoefgena, S., et al. (2018) “Facile assembly and fluorescence-based screening method for heterologous expression of biosynthetic pathways in fungi.” Metabolic Engineering, Vol. 48, pp. 44-51. DOI: 10.1016/j.ymben.2018.05.014 (Abstract)

2. Folta, K. M. & H. J. Klee (2016) “Sensory sacrifices when we mass-produce mass produce.” Horticulture Research, Vol. 3, Article number: 16032. DOI: 10.1038/hortres.2016.32 (Full Text)

3. Ulrich, D., S. Kecke, and K. Olbricht (2018) “What do we know about the chemistry of strawberry aroma?” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 66, pp. 3291–3301. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b01115 (Abstract)

4. Guidarelli, M. and E. Baraldi (2015) “Transient transformation meets gene function discovery: the strawberry fruit case.” Frontiers in Plant Science, Vol. 6, p. 444. DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00444 (Full Text)

Incense and Peppermints – The Strawberry Alarm Clock (1967)

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