Via: Rolling Stone
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 working on producing 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.”
Phylos Bioscience released its first reference genome for cannabis at the end of 2016. A team of Canadian researchers had released a cannabis genome in 2011, but, Holmes says, Phylos’ genome was far more complex and detailed. Though it’s been utilized by scientists around the world, Phylos is currently working to release an even more comprehensive genome.
In order to analyze a strain’s DNA, researchers put ground cannabis into a container and then add something called a lysis solution to release genomic DNA from the plant’s cells. From there, the researchers use several other solutions to separate out the different kinds of molecules in the cell so that DNA can be isolated for sequencing.
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,” Holmes said.
Beyond just learning which plants most benefit growers and their customers, creating a comprehensive cannabis genome advances our understanding the medicinal properties of cannabis itself. Once scientists know how the DNA of the plant produces different compounds that can be used for medical purposes, says Holmes, they can breed medical marijuana for more specific purposes.
“The plants genetics control what chemicals they’re going to make,” Holmes says.
Though mapping cannabis’ genome is a large effort, the plant is relatively simple compared to the DNA sequence of other plants. Nolan Kane, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has worked on the cannabis genome, tells Rolling Stone that other genomes he’s worked are far more complicated.