America’s cannabis renaissance represents more than just a sea change in cultural and political attitudes toward the plant. It also presents an unprecedented opportunity for bringing scientific knowledge about weed into the 21st century. So much about cannabis is simply under-studied. But with legalization, the sudden surge in demand for weed is quickly turning the business of cannabis into an industrial-scale enterprise and hurling agriculture companies into a technological arms race to stay ahead of the curve. Now, one leading bioscience firm is joining forces with university researchers to map marijuana’s DNA.
Scientists Aim To Map Marijuana’s DNA
DNA sequencing, the process of mapping an organism’s genome, has been central in agriculture for decades.
Mapping plants’ DNA gives scientists a way to obtain new and crucial insights into the processes that create healthy, sustainable and desirable crops.
DNA mapping is a common practice for staple crops like strawberries and tomatoes. Genetic information helps companies produce higher yields and therefore higher profits.
And now, the same program that mapped the genome of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for the viticulture industry is turning its attention to Cannabis sativa.
Front Range Biosciences is partnering with researchers at the University of California, Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology to map marijuana’s DNA. But instead of mapping marijuana’s DNA to produce stronger strains for the recreational weed industry, Front Range wants to map the genome of industrial hemp.
Mapping Weed’s DNA Could Catalyze Industrial Hemp Production
As prohibition continues to fall in states across the country, industrial hemp production is becoming more of a viable possibility. Hemp, of course, has an incredible range of applications, from textiles to building materials.
And due to their negligible concentration of the psychoactive THC cannabinoid, hemp plants are also used to manufacture medical-grade CBD products. The famous CBD-only strain, Charlotte’s Web, is a case in point.
Federal laws, and the wavering, inconsistent legal status of hemp production, have hampered studies on hemp genetics. Front Range Biosciences’ partnership with UC Davis aims to change that.
“We have successfully applied cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies and computational approaches to study challenging genomes of diverse crops and associated microorganisms,” said CEO Jonathan Vaught.
Decoding hemp’s genome “will allow us to gain new insight into the genetic bases of complex pathways of secondary metabolism in plants.”
In other words, insights into how to grow the best hemp plants possible.
The demand is certainly there. Farmers are Front Range’s primary clients. And they’re interested in knowing about seed yield, water intake and how hemp resists disease and pesticides.
“We’re looking for what makes a plant have a certain type of leaf structure, flower structure or seed structure. How well it responds to drought conditions, certain diseases, plant and pathogens,” Vaught said.
Most importantly, hemp farmers are concerned with CBD production.
At root, the desire to map marijuana’s DNA stems from an interest in the industrial manufacture of hemp-derived CBD medicines.
Targeting medically beneficial compounds in hemp is a major focus of Front Range’s and UC Davis’s project.
One Man’s Mission To Map Marijuana’s DNA
Front Range and UC Davis aren’t the first to want to map marijuana’s DNA.
In fact, the man who is perhaps most responsible for mapping the genome of cannabis is Mowgli Holmes. He’s a 43-year-old geneticist with a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Columbia University.
Holmes’s life work? Sequence the DNA of every different strain of cannabis in the world. As a scientific quest, Holmes’s sequencing project could change everything we know about weed.
A DNA database containing the genomes of every strain of cannabis would offer medical and recreational consumers alike unprecedented clarity about their products, what works for them and what doesn’t.