The headline for The Guardian article about this says the scientists want to make LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), but the article itself says they want to make lysergic acid (with no diethylamide), a precursor to LSD with other uses.
They said developing biofuels was a terrible business strategy, because fuel was so cheap. Why not make expensive compounds, like pharmaceuticals, instead?
The advice got Wintermute thinking. What was the most valuable compound they could make with the toolkit of synthetic biology? Some research came up with a few candidates including a few very sophisticated cancer drugs. But another compound was up there in monetary terms: LSD. The value by weight was astronomical.
Wintermute and his colleagues had a good laugh about that. But the more they looked into it, the more interesting – and viable – the drug looked. Around 20 tonnes of lysergic acid, a precursor of LSD, are made each year and turned into real medicines, such as nicergoline, a treatment for dementia. The drug is purified from big vats of fungus (which make the compound naturally) using technology developed decades ago.