Genome sequencing is a way to understand diseases and develop drugs
DNA is the cornerstone of organic life on our planet. A complex network of data that is still under constant study, scientists see the medical and commercial potential to unlock genomes species, including cannabis.
A genome is the complete set of the DNA of an organism and, according to the US National Library of Medicine, contains all the information needed to build and maintain this life, whether plant or animal.
"The genome is the code we have in our unique DNA in every cell of our body. It is composed of half of our mother's code and half of our father's code. And it's also true for plants and animals, "said Dr. Gil Ronen, a professional genome cartographer.
Ronen is president and co-founder of NRGene, an Israeli company specializing in the sequencing of plant and animal genomes for industries using artificial intelligence. The company has managed to solve the genome sequences for wheat, rye, oats and many more than others before.
According to him, all DNA codes are a very long chain of chemicals, consisting of four different chemical elements represented by the letters A (adenine), G (guanine), C (cytosine) and T (thymine). A complete genome makes hundreds of millions of these letters.
"It's the book of life, everything we do is encoded in this very big book."
Sequencing a complete DNA genome is not an easy task. Even the human genome, according to Ronen, has not been completely sequenced: despite the billions of dollars spent.
Eliminating these gaps is a key element in understanding the genetics of any species. And if sequencing individual human genomes is a way to understand human diseases and develop drugs, the commercial aspects of plant genomes go even further. According to a review article published in the botanical journal Applications in Plant Sciencewhole plant genomes can be used for "the study of the fundamental questions of evolution and ecology" and to better understand "the genomic diversity of ecotypes, geographical isolates and associated species".
The role of artificial intelligence
The sequencing process has improved significantly over time as the technology progresses. Fortunately, "it's very complicated to do but it's not that complicated to explain," says Ronen.
The most common technique is to place the chemical extract of the cells in a machine that spits out an incomplete part of the DNA code in the form of the letters AGCT. Some machines offer 100 letters and others, very sophisticated, can give up 100 000 letters.
"It's in very small pieces and you have to build it to the end without the image, so we do not know what it looks like," says Ronen. "You do not have a piece for each place in the genome, you have hundreds of overlapping pieces. It's like you have a mix of different 200 puzzles.
The different pieces of code overlap but are not identical. Powerful artificial intelligence systems are used to perfectly assemble parts.
When it comes to cannabis, things can be tricky because the plant itself is complex from a genetic point of view.
"Cannabis genes are the keys that code the thing that produces the different cannabinoids. All these cannabinoids carry cards whose genes are responsible for the production in the flower. "
According to Ronen, if a cannabis grower wants his crops to favor a particular cannabinoid (such as THC or CBD), he must identify the genes that must be combined into as many functional genes that are responsible for the production of the substance. Knowing which genes the plant needs to produce the desired cannabinoid, and ensuring that they work as well as possible, can help growers get the best quality results from their plants.
A complete genome helps producers better understand their plants and plan accordingly. Traditional farming methods can take up to two to three times longer, Ronen says.
"You want to find your offspring with the largest number of functional genes that produce THC," he says.
In addition to potency, a complete genomic array can help spread commercially attractive traits like resistance to mold or mushrooms, serious problems for any type of agriculture.