Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Contact:  Sun, 28 Jun 1998


The fungus that could be used against the opium growers looks a little like
the mould found on old bread. It develops on the poppies as a greenish and
black fuzzy powder.

Once introduced to a crop, the fungus can spread through the aerial
transmission of its own spores, of which millions can be produced by one
plant. But the rate of contamination can be increased by spraying from the

Once a plant is infected, it begins to show symptoms within three days; by
10 days there are visible lesions on the stem and leaves. Within weeks it
may die.

The bud of the opium poppy contains the sap that is the raw material for
heroin. The seed-pod is slit open while on the plant, allowing the sap to
ooze out. Usually it is left to dry in the sun and the brown,
latex-textured residue is removed later with a scraper.

Morphine is isolated from the opium by a series of boilings and filterings,
using commonly available chemicals, leaving a product that resembles brown
sugar. It is then compacted into blocks and transported to more
sophisticated laboratories to produce heroin.

It takes 12-14 hours to produce heroin from morphine, and 5kg-10kg of
heroin crystals require 50kg-100kg of opium.

If the poppy-killer fungus is used, it would not be the first time that a
natural agent was deployed as a biological weapon. American scientists have
developed a type of algae to kill mosquitoes by shutting off their
digestive systems; in Britain, a bacteria derived from soya is used as a
pesticide by organic farmers; and in Colombia, farmers are experimenting
with a fungus that kills off the borer beetles that threaten their coffee

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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski