Imagine a world where copious amounts of cannabis could be grown without the use of any pesticides.
Front Range Biosciences is way ahead of you.
Scientists from the agricultural biotech company in Boulder, CO – which specializes in tissue culture propagation of high value cannabis crops at an industrial scale – have partnered with the University of California, Davis to map out the hemp genome in a way that allows them to “associate specific genes with specific traits.”
In the long run, that means creating cannabis crops ripe with futuristic potential; a plant packed with more CBD than its average counterpart, for example, or maybe a plant that’s resistant to drought or disease.
The possibilities are endless, and FRB founder Jon Vaught intends to explore them all.
“[Thanks to] prohibition, nobody has had a chance to actually apply some of the amazing technologies that have been developed over the last few decades to this plant,” Vaught, whose business includes both a ‘Clean Stock Tissue Culture Clone Nursery’ and a ‘Genomics & Breeding’ program – told Civilized.
“There’s really a lot to learn... [when it comes to] something as complex as a completely new crop, how it relates to the environment, how it can be formed, what its genome looks like – all these big questions.”
In the months and years to come, FRB and UC Davis will work together to try and answer at least some of those questions.
The project will involve FRB scientists extracting hemp DNA and then sending that DNA to UC Davis, whose scientists will analyze its biological data. Their findings will go back to FRB, whose experts will then use that information in their Genomics & Breeding program.
The end goal, said Vaught, is to develop and deliver improved cannabis products – be they clones or seed stock – to farmers and eventually consumers.
“This project is really meant to set the foundation for us in terms of information that we can then use to provide farmers with better products,” said Vaught.
One trait Vaught is particularly interested in developing with FRB’s Genomics & Breeding program is disease resistance.
“Because the cannabis industry has grown so fast in the last five years, there are a lot of pathogens, a lot of diseases that growers are struggling to fight. That usually means they turn to pesticides, which can lead to potential pesticide residues in the product,” said Vaught. “Creating crops that don’t require pesticide input or much pesticide input is going to be really important going forward.
“Can I say right now that we’re going to be able to do that perfectly for all the different kinds of cannabis? No. But that’s absolutely what we’re going after.”
It may sound like an impossibly tall order, but Vaught is confident they'll get the job done. He compares the work ahead to the process of developing – and ultimately commercializing – any other highly beloved and in-demand crop.
“Take heirloom tomatoes, for example. How do [farmers] get a tomato that tastes sweet and juicy and has the right texture? Somebody had to work to create that new tomato line and then they had to build it to scale and commercialize it. It’s the same thing here,” said Vaught. “It’s one thing say: ‘look, we created this new tomato.’ But how do you then get that out to the 10,000 farmers across the U.S. who want to grow that tomato? Is it seeds? Is it plant starts? That’s where we come into play.”
The first results of the research project are set to come out some time next year.