Marijuana Genome Unraveled
News Aug 27, 2015
“Even though hemp and marijuana are important crops, knowledge about cannabis is lacking because of its status as a controlled drug,” said Jonathan Page, a University of British Columbia botanist who co-led the first large-scale study of the genetic diversity of cannabis. The research was conducted together with Sean Myles, a population geneticist at Dalhousie University.
Researchers looked at the genotypes of 81 marijuana and 43 hemp samples. Using the DNA variants in the cannabis genome, they were able to search for relationships between different plants. They found that cannabis plants, which consist of three species (C. sativa, C. indicaand C. ruderalis), are often incorrectly labeled.
Popular lore assigns different characteristics to marijuana plants. For example, Indica-type plants are believed to produce relaxing and sedative effects as opposed to more stimulating Sativa-type plants. The researchers found only a moderate correlation between the ancestry of marijuana strains reported by breeders and the ancestry inferred from their DNA. For example, a sample of Jamaican Lambs Bread, which is classified as C. sativa, was almost identical at a genetic level to a C. indica strain from Afghanistan.
“Cannabis breeders and growers often indicate the percentage of Sativa or Indica in a cannabis strain, but they are not very accurate,” Page explained.
While hemp plants also go by the latin name C. sativa, researchers discovered that hemp showed a high amount of genetic separation from marijuana, likely due to the breeding of the plants for radically different uses.
Canada is a global leader in hemp production, with more than 80,000 acres devoted to seed and fibre production. A licence from Health Canada is required to grow marijuana for medical purposes, and there are now 25 licensed producers supplying about 21,000 Canadian patients. Understanding cannabis genetics and evolution could assist in better breeding efforts for both crops.
“The genetic difference between marijuana and hemp has legal implications in many countries,” said Page. “Right now, the genetic identity of a marijuana strain cannot be accurately determined by its name or reported ancestry. Ultimately we require a practical, accurate and more reliable classification system of this plant.”
Page founded a biotech startup, Anandia Labs, based at UBC, to use genomics for testing and breeding efforts in regulated cannabis production.
No Country for Old GenesNews
Our modern world is radically different from the one we evolved in, and that creates a mismatch between the environment our genes were evolved to face, and the world those genes now encounter. A new review looks at how certain genes that benefited humans in our genetic past now predispose us to disease in old age.READ MORE
CRISPR Editing Stops HIV Virus in Infected CellsNews
Human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) infection is a chronic disease affecting more than 35 million people worldwide. The infection can be controlled by antiretroviral therapy (ART), but there is still no complete cure. Now, a new study targeting the regulatory genes of the virus using CRISPR/Cas9 has helped block the production of the virus by infected cells.READ MORE
Genetics Help Make a Weed a WeedNews
A study has has found that the success of weedy and invasive plants like the Jerusalem artichoke lies in their genes. Understanding how invasive plants evolve and the genes that enable them to thrive in a new environment is key to better understanding why they are wreaking havoc on natural landscapes and food production around the world.READ MORE