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CRISPR/Cas9 in Cannabis – The Future of Genetic Engineering

What is CRISPR?

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is an innovative biotechnology tool based on a natural safety function in bacteria. It uses a protein called Cas9 and a bound RNA (gRNA) with a 17-20 nucleotide sequence to recognize and cut specific segments of DNA. In biotechnology, CRISPR is used as genetic scissors to modify genes and create new functions.

How long has gene modification existed in animals and plants?

Gene modification in animals and plants is not a new technology. The first gene was inserted into a plant cell as early as the 1980s. Since then, the technology has evolved and it has become possible to specifically modify genes to achieve desired traits such as resistance to pests or higher yields.

How does CRISPR work in plants?

CRISPR/Cas9 can be used to selectively cut genes in plants to change specific traits. To do this, the CRISPR/Cas9 system is inserted into the plant cell, where it finds the desired gene and cuts it. A new gene can then be inserted to confer the desired trait. The modification is then transferred to the offspring.

Diagram of CRISPR Process

Source: Crisprtx.com

What companies are already working with CRISPR in the cannabis industry?

A number of companies working in the cannabis sector are already using CRISPR. These include:

  • Ebbu: This company, acquired by Canopy Growth Corp. in 2018, was one of the first to use CRISPR to create single-cannabinoid strains.
  • Sunrise Genetics: In 2018, Sunrise Genetics managed to decode the genome of cannabis.
  • CanBreed: Since 2017, CanBreed, an Israeli genetic seed company, has been part of the cannabis industry. In 2020, it acquired a CRISPR/Cas9 patent, making it the first company to have a CRISPR license in the industry.

How can CRISPR help in terms of cannabis breeding/seeds?

  • Increasing quality: CRISPR can be used to modify certain genes in cannabis plants to increase the concentration of THC or CBD, or to decrease undesirable traits such as odor.
  • Increasing yields: By modifying genes responsible for plant growth and flowering, yields can be increased.
  • Pest resistance: CRISPR can be used to add genes that make plants more resistant to pests and diseases.
  • Improving growing conditions: CRISPR can be used to add genes that allow plants to better cope with adverse climate conditions such as drought or flooding.
  • Standardizing seeds: CRISPR can be used to standardize seeds so that they have consistent traits, making them valuable for farming and growing cannabis plants.

In the cannabis industry, CRISPR thus offers great opportunities to improve the quality and efficiency of cultivation.

Whether the use of CRISPR is “ethically correct” is a matter of debate. But the fact is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in 2018 that it would not regulate CRISPR-modified crops as long as the modifications were made with related plant DNA.

This announcement paved the way for further research and application of CRISPR in agriculture and plant breeding.

In summary, CRISPR/Cas9 is a powerful tool in biotechnology that allows scientists to target and modify genes to create new traits in plants and animals. This has the potential to revolutionize agriculture and plant breeding and improve livelihoods and food security worldwide.

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Hermaphrodites – origins, implications and what the future holds

Hermaphrodite plants are natural and part of cultivating cannabis, even if it is an uncomfortable topic with many. But is their reputation really that bad?

It has not been scientifically proven that hermaphroditism is a negative trait in cannabis plants. However, it is important to note that hermaphroditism can also have disadvantages, such as passing on faulty DNA sequences, instability or disease.

Ultimately, whether hermaphroditism is considered positive or negative depends on a breeder’s breeding goals and specific requirements.

Origin and reasons of hermaphrodites

It is not to be neglected that if hermaphrodite traits are overlooked in a breeding program, they can become noticeable later. Often hermaphrodite traits are not even present in every generation and can also have many backgrounds.

  • Older gene information from earlier times, when plants were monoecious.

  • Cell division errors due to hormone fluctuations or signal interruptions.

  • Meiosis errors where chromosomes do not divide correctly and faulty pollen grains pollinated the female plant. (Meiosis: “maturity division” – the process by which male and female genes randomly mix in a new generation)

Not every hermaphrodite is the same.

Low Herm: A plant that occasionally produces a banana/pollen sac due to stress, or repeatedly in almost the same place, for example on the lowest shoot.

Median Hermaphrodit
Median Herm: A seed plant which forms several or isolated pollen sacs under each flower or internode (also called leaf axis) in the first run. Clones taken from this plant also show the same characteristics or less, forming only isolated pollen sacs, but no longer on each flower/shoot.

Strong Hermaphrodit
Strong Herm: A plant that obviously develops both sexual characteristics. You can clearly see the formation of male pollen sacs on the top shoot (headbud) and white hairs (also called pistils or stigma, which grow from the calyx) that the female plants form to capture the pollen and ensure their survival.

Those who study cannabis culture in depth will come to similar conclusions. If you take a look at Afghanistan or Pakistan or at the Moroccan fields, you will often find a strongly occurring hermaphrodite in the middle of the field there as well. Often these form all the male pollen sacs on the lower half, which pollinate the upper part of the plant, as it expresses female characteristics there, which capture the pollen and produce new seeds to ensure their survival as mentioned above. This can also be observed in the Strain Hunter episodes from Greenhouse Seeds.

Effects of hermaphrodites

In today’s cannabis world, where it is often all about “bag appeal” or the next hype, it is often forgotten that most strains are strong poly hybrids. These often have such long pedigrees that you have to scroll twice on seedfinder.eu to get to the end.

Of course, we also tried to work with such genetics. Some varieties were stable enough, while others were completely unstable. Here, there were no differences between new high class brands or old breeders. Hermaphrodite plants appeared pretty much everywhere, but also good phenotypes, which had the potential to cultivate them multiple times and create something new with them.

That’s exactly why we keep preaching to get to know your genetics as best as possible before you continue working with them. It often takes several runs, as well as different seasons with different conditions, to find out exactly how stable your genetics are.

The future of hermaphrodites

In the future, so-called “phenohunt(s)” will most likely take place in the lab. This requires only a fraction of a DNA sequence to reproduce the genetic code and the resulting plant. Such DNA sequences can be analyzed for a wide variety of traits such as growth, resistance or taste.

This is also called “marker-assisted breeding” which is a new form of selection.

Marker-assisted breeding (MAB) is a modern method of plant breeding that uses genetic markers to identify and transfer specific traits in plants. It is a more precise and efficient method than traditional breeding and allows breeders to achieve specific traits faster and with higher probability.

MAB is supported by the use of DNA markers that identify specific genes responsible for certain traits such as plant height, yield and disease resistance. Breeders can test plants for these markers to select those that exhibit the desired traits. This speeds up the breeding process and produces higher-quality results.

Undesirable traits or characteristics that have been inherited through previous genetics could be repaired, replaced or even further manipulated through CRISPR/Cas9.

If these topics interest you, feel free to read on here: CRISPR/Cas9 in Cannabis – The Future of Genetic Engineering

Until next time.


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