Have you ever eaten a wild strawberry? What about a banana with seeds in it? Chances are you haven’t, but if you have, you probably complained that these wild varieties of common market fruit were not sweet, loaded with seeds and very small in size. The same process used to make strawberries big or watermelons seedless can be done on cannabis, and some not-so-crazy breeders from Buddha Seeds have been experimenting with polyploidy in cannabis, with some potentially game changing results.
Most organisms are naturally diploid, meaning they have two sets of chromosomes, one from each parent. Sometimes random mutations happen that cause the number of chromosomes to double or triple. In animals, this is normally a bad thing, but plants are more tolerant to having multiple copies of chromosomes, and it can even be a beneficial trait. Many species of plants have naturally evolved to be polyploids, but not in the case of cannabis. According to CJ Schwartz from Marigene, a company that is in the process building a genetic database of different varieties of cannabis, all the cannabis he has seen so far is diploid.
The extra genetic material in polyploidy plants makes them bigger; with bigger seeds, leaves, stems and bigger flowers. Commercial farmers and breeders induce polyploidy for a variety of reasons, and a lot of the plants you eat every have many more than two sets of chromosomes. Polyploid crops ensure large yields of consistent, quality fruits, vegetables and grains. Even though inducing polyploidy in plants for the purposes of commercial cultivation is unnatural, it does not affect the actual genetic code of the plant, and regulatory agencies do not consider polyploid plants to be genetically modified organisms. In order for an organism to be fully GMO, you need to introduce foreign DNA into its genetic code, like when you insert fish genes into a tomato to make it frost tolerant.
Almost all cannabis plants are diploid, but what happens when you double the number of chromosomes to make it tetraploid? Buddha Seeds, a genetics company from Spain, tried just that. They used colchicine to induce polyploidy in freshly rooted cuttings and seeds. Colchicine interrupts cell division, or mitosis, in a certain way that makes diploid cells divide into tetraploid cells, instead of making more diploid cells like they normally do.
By soaking the growth tips of young plants in colchicine, the plant matures and grows with tetraploid cells. Buddha Seeds claims tetraploid pot plants are bigger and more beastly than their diploid counterparts, but they haven’t actually displayed pictures of bigger plants and buds. Here you can see two big tetraploid seeds next to normal sized diploid seeds:
Here they have a normal leaf on the left and a tetraploid leaf on the right, to scale in centimeters:
Here you can see diploid cells on the right with 20 chromosomes (the normal number), and tetraploid cells on the right with 40:
Whether or not a tetraploid cannabis plant makes better buds or not is still a mystery, but even if they didn’t, inducing polyploidy could still be an advantageous process for cannabis growers, in the exact same way it is for watermelon growers. If you cross a tetraploid plant with a diploid plant, you get a triploid plant. The laws of nature have it that organisms with an odd number of chromosomes are sterile and do not produce seeds. To make a seedless watermelon you plant an entire field of tetraploid watermelon vines and pollinate them with a singe diploid watermelon plant; the resulting fruit is triploid and lacks the ability to reproduce, and there you have it, seedless watermelons. Theoretically the same process can be done with cannabis to allow for a different way to make seedless pot in addition to cutting clones.
Perhaps one day commercial ganja farmers will manipulate cannabis like kiwis, wheat or watermelons, but the diploid buds out there already look pretty fantastic. We hope Buddha Seeds keeps us updated with their experiments with polyploid cannabis, and High Times will continue to inform the public on the latest advances in cannabis science from around the world as it happens.