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Genetic analysis of cannabis sheds light on better policy

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How Science Will Help Cannabis Regulated

Researchers from Washington State University have published the first analysis complete genetic and chemical characteristics of cannabis. The new study, led by Bernd Markus Lange, a professor at the WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry and director of the metabolomics laboratory MJ Murdock, analyzed genetic sequences from nine commercial strains. The results are published in the last issue of the journal Plant Physiology.

Until now, the lack of knowledge of the plant and its various chemical components have slowed down regulation and confused consumers. Most research on non-medical marijuana, hemp, CBD and THC products has been funded by the industry that produces these products, but the Washington State study has been funded by donors. unrelated to the cannabis industry.

The fact that not all cannabis plants are identical just adds to the confusion. There are three species of cannabis plants: Sativa, Indicates et Ruderaliswho have genomes different. Then there are different strains of plants: hybrids grown to bring out specific characteristics. In addition, chemicals found in plants, called cannabinoidsare more than 100 and include both CBD and THC, two very different compounds. Then there are cannabinoids that plants produce naturally and those produced synthetically: an important distinction for policy and legalization.

Are you confused? It's not surprising

The industry thrives on scientific claims that promise to give you everything, pain relief and commercial claims about the differences between strains and their compounds have taken precedence over objective analyzes over the years.

With legal hemp, CBD oils and chewing gums available online and 11 states legalizing recreational cannabis, the industry has exploded. And research is finally catching up.

But it remains an obstacle. The federal government has been slow to fund cannabis research despite the explosion of interest and universities are often prohibited from working with these plants. This situation may change as scientists continue to claim that a portion of the tax revenue from legalization is used to fund the research. But even the WSU study had to be divided between public and private entities. Lange and his research team could not have the plant in their labs and so they had to entrust the extraction of RNA (essential nucleic acid in the transport of the genetic message and the synthesis of proteins) to EVIO Labs, a company private screening. Then, a third party sequenced the genetic material. Lange was only allowed to work with the dataset that private companies had sent him.

And a good policy depends on good research. Lange continued:

Currently, only THC content is regulated but there are many outstanding issues from a regulatory perspective: what are the biological activities of the more 90 other cannabinoids that have been identified? Does the nature of the consumed product (tobacco, vaping, edible, etc.) affect a person's ability to drive a machine or drive a vehicle In a different way ? The entourage effect (interaction of several components of cannabis in a synergistic manner) is it more a "marketing effect" or are there implications? There is also commercial crop management, such as pesticide use and best practices. We certainly need more research in this area.

With respect to consumer cannabis use, Lange hopes to see more people interested in "a scientific basis for marketing claims" for both recreational cannabis and CBD products.

While Lange's research has focused on the cannabinoids that influence plant odor, his method of analysis is much broader and could help guide future research on the distinct genetic profiles of cannabis strains and determine which cannabinoids they produce and in what quantity. The ability to measure these compounds (in this case, cannabinoid resins and terpenes) will allow regulators and consumers to compare products using concrete genetic data.

Gene networks are responsible for the accumulation of cannabinoids and terpenoids in cannabis

Glandular trichomes are specialized anatomical structures that accumulate secretions with important biological roles in plant-environment interactions. These secretions also have commercial uses in the aroma, perfume and pharmaceutical industries. Glandular trichomes Cannabis sativa, located on the surface of the bracts of female flowers, are the main site for the biosynthesis and storage of resins rich in cannabinoids and terpenoids. In this study, we profiled nine commercial cannabis strains with allegedly different attributes, such as taste, color, odor, and genetic origin. Glandular trichomes were isolated from each of these strains and specific cell-type transcriptome data sets were acquired. Cannabinoids and terpenoids have been quantified in flower buds.

Statistical analyzes have shown that these datasets make it possible to differentiate high-resolution strains by providing additional information. Integrative analyzes revealed a network of coexpression of genes involved in the biosynthesis of cannabinoids and terpenoids from imported precursors. Terpene synthase genes involved in the biosynthesis of the main mono- and sesquiterpenes regularly analyzed by cannabis laboratories have been identified and functionally evaluated. In addition to cloning variants of previously characterized genes, in particular CsTPS14CT ((-) - limonene synthase) and CsTPS15CT (β-myrcene synthase), we evaluated the functional genes that encode enzymes whose activities were not described. previously in cannabis, including CsTPS18VF and CsTPS19BL (nerolidol / linalool synthases); CsTPS16CC (germacrene B synthase) and CsTPS20CT (hedycaryol synthase).

This study lays the groundwork for a better understanding of the complex chemistry and biochemistry that underlie resin build-up in commercial cannabis strains.

Lange lights the way forward:

I would say that a combination of genetic / genomic and chemical analyzes will be the most powerful approach to differentiating strains (as we did in the recently published project). This will also be important for breeding purposes as we begin to better understand how the sequence variation of some genes correlates with traits such as chemical composition.

When the agriculture law was promulgated in December 2018, cannabis with a THC content below 0,3% (commonly known as industrial hemp) was deregulated (decriminalized at the federal level), which means that we will likely see more and more industrial hemp plots in the fields from the country.

This shift will make hemp research a lot easier and Lange believes it's only a matter of time before hemp-free cannabis research ensues (after all, of the same plant species). He also sees this preliminary research as a step forward in helping people understand and regulate cannabis:

I hope that our research can help establish the scientific basis for strategic decisions, including better characterization and differentiation of strains.

All signs point to better research in the near future, including the International Phytomedicine and Medical Cannabis Institute (IPI) which will be hosted at the Harvard Medical School Boston in collaboration with Atlas Biotechnologies of Canada. And this is not the first major university to invest in this type of research. The UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative (University of California at Los Angeles) is also dedicated to producing scientific knowledge about "the therapeutic potential and risks of cannabis for the health of the body, the brain and the body. spirit".

source: FORBES

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