Over the past several months, scientists have published bits and pieces of a fascinating feat: In an effort to create pain medications like hydrocodone without using poppies, researchers have engineered simple baker’s yeast to synthesize these medicinal compounds from sugar. One by one, labs figured out how to get the yeast to turn A into B, and B into C, Y into Z.

Now, for the first time, Stanford University researchers have done it from start to finish. In a paper published in Science, they report the successful synthesis of the opioid hydrocodone from sugar, thanks to genetically engineered yeast. The discovery may have the potential to make the manufacture of painkillers cheaper and faster in a world where, according to the World Health Organization, 5.5 billion people lack access to the drugs. Opioids can take more than a year to produce from poppies; the Stanford team’s engineered yeast produced hydrocodone in just three to five days.


Music can help in surgery recovery

Surgical patients who listen to music — even while they are under general anesthesia — have less anxiety and need less pain medication during recovery than those who do not, a large review of studies has found.

The analysis, in Lancet, includes data from 72 randomized controlled trials. Compared with regular care, music was associated with a 20 percent reduction in postoperative pain, a 10 percent reduction in anxiety and a significant reduction in the use of pain medication.


Breast-feeding’s heart benefits

A new study found that breast feeding may reduce a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.

Researchers found that the less time a woman breast-fed, the thicker her carotid arteries. In addition, almost 17 percent of women who lactated for a month or less had atherosclerotic plaques, compared with less than 11 percent of those who breast-fed for 10 months or longer.

Pregnancy makes the cardiovascular system work harder, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease, and the authors suggest that lactation helps restore maternal physiological systems to their prepregnancy state.

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