Cannabis can be used in the treatment of numerous conditions, from epilepsy to alleviating the side effects of cancer therapies, but the full extent of the plant’s medicinal benefits remain largely unexplored. A new research initiative hopes to address this by mapping the cannabis genome in a quest to unlock the full potential of pot.
Scientists at the University of California, Davis, partnered with biotech firm Front Range Biosciences (FRB) to conduct the genomics research to “advance understanding of cannabis for medical and nutraceutical uses.”
The research team at UC Davis has previously mapped the genomes of the cabernet sauvignon grape and the arabica coffee bean and now wants to focus on the hemp plant because of its commercial potential.
“We have successfully applied cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies and computational approaches to study challenging genomes of diverse crops and associated microorganisms,” said Dario Cantu, an assistant professor in the department of viticulture and enology at UC Davis.
“We are now excited to have the opportunity to study the genome of hemp. Decoding the genome will allow us to gain new insight into the genetic bases of complex pathways of secondary metabolism in plants.”
Cantu and his research team are not the first to attempt to map the genome of cannabis, though his research differs in that it hopes to bring clarity to the medicinal rather than the recreational market.
One team at Oregon Health and Science University, led by geneticist Mowgli Holmes, is involved in a project that ultimately aims to sequence the DNA of every kind of cannabis in the world.
The joint initiative with FRB will involve isolating DNA from hemp that is low in THC—the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
“UC Davis is renowned as the leading agriculture university in the world and we are excited to work with Dr. Cantu’s team to improve this crop to reduce pesticide residues and excessive application of fertilizers, in preparation for production targeting medically beneficial compounds,” said Jonathan Vaught, CEO of FRB.
FRB’s involvement in the research is part of a growing trend that has seen dramatic growth in marijuana-related industries in the United States.
A study released in June found that there were 165,000 to 235,000 people already working in jobs related to the weed industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this means there are now more marijuana workers than dental hygienists.
This figure is expected to grow to around 250,000 jobs by 2020, according to a recent report, thanks to changing laws surrounding recreational pot use.