Singapore has some of the strictest drug laws in the world. According to the “Misuse of Drugs Act,” you can receive the death penalty for possessing little more than a pound of marijuana. It comes as a surprise, then, that Singapore has seized the opportunity for research into synthetic medicinal cannabinoids.
According to The Straits Times, “Scientists in Singapore hope to unlock the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids—chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant—with none of the negative side effects and social ills.”
The five-year program announced by Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) is part of a $25 million-dollar program targeting Synthetic Biology Research Development. The program will not require the country to grow any marijuana plants, and instead focus on researching medical cannabis that can be produced within the laboratory.
Plant biology and biotechnology expert Chua Nam Hai, the director of the new program, told The Straits Times: “Creating new microbial organisms under the proprietary national strain could provide new platforms that can help to create a wider range of compounds, potentially generating diverse intellectual property.” The science behind the program refers to the ability to produce natural products via engineered biological systems.
Overall, the $25M synthetic biology program will have three main goals:
- Develop a synthetic cannabinoid biology program.
- Establish proprietary national strains of yeast and bacteria for commercialization.
- Deliver biochemicals to industries, such as rare fatty acids.
Specifically, the Synthetic Cannabinoid Biology Program’s mission is to identify the cannabinoid genes necessary to create a sustainable production of medicinal cannabinoids without the need to actually grow the plant. Already, four research projects led by scientists from the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University have been given grants under the program—and that’s just the start.
The NRF claims synthetic biology has the potential to replace current methods of chemical synthesis and extraction for a less laborious, more affordable and higher yielding process. George Loh, NRF Director of Programs, was quoted in The Straits Times as stating: “Synthetic biology research is maturing and we are well positioned to move forward with translational research for industrial application.”