New genetic technology allows manufacturers to increase THC levels in cannabis

Indiana-based biotechnology company Growing Together Research Inc. announced this week that it has developed a new technique for genetically modulating the expression of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis, including the ability to increase cannabinoid levels in varieties grown for recreational or medical marijuana.

In August 2020, GTR partnered with Texas A&M Agrilife Research to develop and optimize protocols for the genetic transformation of industrial hemp for commercial purposes. Earlier this year, the partnership revealed that it had achieved the first known stable transformation and regeneration of many varieties of hemp without THC. The results include validated gene revisions that are expected to eliminate or nearly eliminate the production of THC and the minor cannabinoid cannabichrome, while enhancing cannabidiol (CBD) expression. The transformed varieties are expected to be ready for the market in the fourth quarter of 2022 and are designed to help US hemp growers manage the risk of their harvest exceeding the federal limits of THC, which often requires the producer to destroy the crop or be facing serious legal consequences for marijuana cultivation.

According to a study by New Frontier Data, more than 10% of hemp planted between 2018 and 2020 was “hot”, exceeding the federal limit of 0.3% for THC. In addition, a cross – sectional study of currently cultivated hemp varieties published by Limits in genetics shows that many varieties express significantly higher THC levels than permitted and inconsistent CBD levels compared to the certificates of analysis presented to producers.

Increase in THC

Having demonstrated the ability to “reduce” or “turn off” genes encoding THC expression, GTR now uses the same technique to increase THC expression. The company plans to start working with academic and commercial partners in Canada to create cannabis varieties with increased THC expression, with the initial set of varieties with high THC content expected to be created by the third quarter of 2023.

The scientific ability to modulate THC expression up and down, called by the GTR “Delta9 Dial”, represents a new advance in the stable gene editing of the cannabis plant, which the company says is difficult to transform. The new technique also establishes the capabilities of the GTR’s genomics platform, where growers can choose from a menu of traits to customize the genetics of their plants and optimize their value.

Samuel E. Procter, CEO of GTR, says Delta9 Dial could eventually be used to modulate cannabis THC levels to a certain target percentage.

The same technique we use to create a muted THC plant can also be used to modulate CBD and CBC levels, so while we are currently focused on muted THC and high THC varieties, we may be able to “tune” our approach to whatever cannabinoid content our customers and partners seek, ‚ÄĚProcter said in a virtual interview.

The technique also seems to be effective on most, if not all, cannabis varieties, allowing cultivators to raise the percentage of THC in marijuana strains that are already popular with consumers.

“We started with five different varieties in the lab and were able to successfully and steadily transform all five varieties,” said Procter. “This success shows that our technique must be applicable to all varieties, whether it is to suppress or increase THC levels.

Are smokers ready for GMO weed?

While the cannabis market has a clear tendency to buy marijuana largely based on the potency of THC, it remains to be seen whether consumers will reduce their hard-earned money on genetically modified cannabis.

“Today, GMOs have become a substitute for the modern agro-industrial complex, which has rightly attracted a lot of negative press and poisoned the well of public opinion against GMOs,” Procter said.

But he says common reservations about GMO foods do not apply to the GTR’s technique for raising or lowering THC levels in cannabis.

“In general, we believe that the significant concern about GMOs stems from the fear of unnaturally shifting genes between different organisms / species to create a ‘Franken organism’ – this is not our approach,” Procter said. “Instead, GTR introduces a short DNA sequence that blocks the production of a single enzyme involved in a single branch of the cannabinoid biosynthetic pathway. No foreign genes have been added by other organisms. “

Procter adds that biotechnology is currently being used to improve diets by increasing nutritional content in food, while expanding and improving the variety of fruits and vegetables available. He also notes that biotechnology can help the environment by reducing the use of harmful chemical pesticides and herbicides, reducing deforestation by increasing agricultural productivity and increasing the carbon capture capacity of plants.

“These clear benefits are often obscured or not discussed in the context of biotechnology and agriculture,” says Procter, “but it’s important to keep them in mind to understand how useful biotechnology-based approaches are.”

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