The Race To Map Cannabis DNA


Cannabis treats numerous conditions, but the full extent of the plant’s powers remains mostly unexplored.

Two initiatives are charging ahead right now in an attempt to map the cannabis genome to unlock more of marijuana’s medicinal secrets. The successes of these scientists could ultimately reduce pesticide and excessive fertilizer use, eliminate environmental stressors, and isolate the medically beneficial cannabinoids that the Cannabis sativa L. plant produces. If cannabis is indeed the next big commercial crop, the medicine, health supplements (CBD oil), or nutritional products like hemp protein powder could make it more profitable than corn.




The first group of scientists hails from the University of California, Davis—one of the top agricultural research institutions—and already have the unraveling of the cabernet sauvignon grape and the arabica coffee bean genomes under their belt. For their current feat, they partnered with cannabis biotech firm Front Range Biosciences (FRB) to “advance understanding of cannabis for medical and nutraceutical uses.”

Cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology is applied to the hemp plant to compute and study the various cannabis crops and the microorganisms associated with them. They claim to be focusing on the medicinal rather than the recreational market and are therefore separating DNA from hemp that is low in THC, the psychoactive component and one of the most considerable differences between marijuana and hemp. “People have gotten really good at breeding high-THC [weed] for the recreational side,” Jon Vaught, the CEO of FRB told Vice. “There’s really not a lot of work to do there. We’re not really focused on that.”




Because the UC Davis team is stationed at a public university, all of the findings will be made public, meaning growers of all kinds can benefit from the genome information.

A team at Oregon Health and Science University is involved in a separate initiative to sequence the DNA of every strain of weed in the world. Mowgli Holmes and his team are creating a living 3D visualization of the resulting cannabis genetics map, called the Phylos Galaxy. It’s like an but for strains of weed.

Despite years of master breeders perfecting the art and science of their grow-op, the knowledge of the Cannabis sativa L. plant is still somewhat nascent, requiring government-level approval to study this federally illegal drug. (Mapping its genome being one such approved activity.) Cannabis is about to become the third largest agricultural crop in the U.S., but it remains one of the least-studied plants in the world, but studies such as this help give us an impression of everything cannabis has to teach us. In turn, the findings should help agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relax the rules and give space for further studies.

November 7, 2017

by Alana Armstrong

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Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.


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