People have been genetically modifying weed since the beginning.
Ancient farmers grew cannabis plants with specific goals in mind. The different goals produced two distinctly new variations or phenotypes of cannabis. The two GMO variants are known as cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Our ancestors used selective breeding to modify the genetics of cannabis ruderalis to create what we currently recognize as weed.
Selective breeding is a great example of the basic concept of genetically modified organisms. By only breeding plants with the best traits, later generations display more desired traits. Both still have the same level of development, one is just more useful.
South African plants need to be tall enough to reach above the scrub brush to get enough light. Sativas like Durban Poison grow incredibly tall because of having South African genetics. But cannabis from the Hindu Kush mountains grow short and dense enough to resist the high winds. Breeding them together may pass on the cold resistance of the Hindu Kush, and/or the height of the Durban Poison.
The race is on to find a better way.
Researchers at Phylos Bioscience launched the Cannabis Evolution Project last year to map the genome of marijuana. By documenting the specific genetic markers of cannabis, the team adds real data to the collective body of knowledge. Phylos also provides producers with a time-stamped certificate of authenticity that helps establish and defend intellectual property rights.
Phylos also shares the sequence data in the Open Cannabis Project’s database. Although they don’t share data without permission. The process prevents companies like Monsanto from capitalizing on weed by securing exclusive patents to specific strains.
Advancements in genetic engineering are coming fast.
Genetic engineering is defined as manipulation of the genetic code or DNA. Plants and animals can be genetically manipulated because both have DNA. Each strand of DNA contains instructions for how, where and when cells should grow. The whole sequence is called the genome. We are quickly learning about the complex code that makes up the genome of cannabis.
Mice were the first creatures to have their DNA manipulated. Scientists managed this feat back in the 1970s. Plants weren’t modified until the 1990s. Through intense study and experimentation, we can predictably enhance certain qualities in a wide range of organisms.
Using modern genetic tools like CRISPR, we can cut and paste different genetic sequences. Researchers can use CRISPR to create indicas that grow tall like sativas, hybrids that produce trichomes in veg or instill UV light responsiveness.
GMO crops are becoming increasingly common.
Just over 20 years ago, the first genetically modified crops entered the market. After only two decades, GMO crops have flooded food and agricultural markets. GMO’s are adopted by industry after industry and change the very face of agriculture in the process.
Most soybean, corn and canola crops produced today are genetically modified. These crops fight off pests, resist disease and produce more stable products. Commercial farmers have adopted these GMO crops in part because of increased consistency.
Marijuana farmers are always looking to increase the consistency and potency of their crops. A GMO crop that promises to fight off pests, diseases, and resist cold would be mighty tempting. Especially if that crop produced commercial quantities of flower.