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How Mapping Marijuana DNA Could Change the Future

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Kgem   Sunday, 10/20/19 09:12:10 AM
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How Mapping Marijuana DNA Could Change the Future of the cannabis industry

Scientists are currently in the midst of exploring uncharted territory: The cannabis genome. Unlike with other plants, researchers don’t have a long history of closely analyzing the genetic makeup of the plant. But for the past seven years – as more and more states legalize medical and recreational pot – researchers have been developing a high-quality marijuana genome. Everyone from low-level researchers to larger companies are part of this effort, and they say mapping the cannabis genome could be highly beneficial to people who grow or use cannabis.

“No one has any idea what they’re smoking. Everything is name draw, so consumers and patients don’t know what they’re getting,” says Mowgli Holmes, co-founder and CEO of Phylos Bioscience, which has been working on its cannabis genome for over two years. “DNA sequencing uniquely identifies a plant, which allows growers to really tell their customers what plant they’re actually getting.” The plants genetics control what chemicals the plant is going to make.

Phylos Bioscience released its first reference genome for cannabis at the end of 2016. Phylos has a program where cannabis growers can send samples of their plants to the company to get the plant’s genetic information, which helps growers, and also helps the company add more genetic data to its genome. “We’ve now sequenced thousands of different plants, and we have by far the biggest database of individual plant data.

Sean O’Connor, a law professor who focuses on intellectual property at the University of Washington, says “If we get federal legalization… you’re definitely going to see both recreational and pharma coming in and trying to patent what they can. Pharmaceutical companies will be able to isolate strains of cannabis DNA and then create compounds found in cannabis in the lab, and that will result in patents for many drugs based on their creations. This is big folks, and it changes everything.

Some of the most exciting but controversial research is in isolating and identifying cannabinoids and particular chemical compounds, not THC that gets you high but other things that could have therapeutic benefits, and then researchers will just generate that chemical. They no longer need the whole cannabis plant. What you’ll see is a pharmaceuticalization of medical marijuana.


Chief scientific officer Jonathan Page of one of the biggest marijuana companies in the world, Aurora Cannabis, said it “was a very tough nut to crack scientifically.” Ultimately, it took several years, “a new kind of ‘long read’ sequencing technology, and a loosening of federal regulations that allowed researchers to handle cannabis DNA.

THC and CBD are just two cannabinoids from the cannabis sativa plant, but there are others that also reportedly have therapeutic benefits. Ideally, companies will be able to take cannabinoid-production genes, “transfer the DNA into yeast or bacteria growing in large tanks, feed the genetically modified microbes a steady diet of sugar, and derive pure tinctures of many obscure cannabinoids with supposed therapeutic properties --- for those familiar with this process, it is akin to brewing beer.

According to CEO and chairman of Canadian marijuana producer Cronos Group Mike Gorenstein, “there are rare cannabinoids that you just can’t get from the plant in any commercial quantity.” That’s why the company partnered with biotech firm Ginkgo Bioworks to “produce eight cultured cannabinoids for use in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical markets.

Cofounder of Inplanta Biotechnology, Darryl Hudson, believes “genetic modifications will be the ‘next wave’ of cannabis breeding.” The Director of Genetics Research Rob Roscow at Canopy Growth even “claims to have developed a method for making THC-free and CBD-free plants via precision gene editing of the relevant genes.
The Chief Scientific Officer at Trait Biosciences, Richard Sayre, has discovered a way to boost cannabinoid levels within the leaf tissue of the plant that will create a tremendous increase in yield while also cutting harvest time.


If you understand how the genotype works you can grow the plants with the traits you want much faster and with extreme precision. Called marker-assisted selection, it’s the key to modern agriculture. In order to understand your genotype you have to map out the genetic structure, or genome of the plant. In the case of cannabis, this involves mapping out 800 million base pairs across 10 chromosomes to build the genomic map.


When we think about all the medical breakthroughs being made with just a handful of cannabinoids the implications of mapping the entire cannabis genome are truly staggering. Practically any purpose cannabis is grown for can be enhanced.



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