Ginkgo Bioworks thinks they can make better, cheaper cannabinoids than you could ever find in natural marijuana.
By this time, you've probably heard about marijuana infused beer and even beer made from cannabis directly. But how about cannabis made from from beer's primary ingredient, yeast? While Ginkgo isn't turning yeast into weed per se, they believe that they can modify the genetic structure of yeast to produce the various chemical compounds commonly found in cannabis, which are collectively known as cannabinoids.
The two most well-known cannabinoids (and the ones with the biggest markets) are THC—the chemical in marijuana that gets you high—and CBD—a compound widely used in medical applications and particularly useful in treating symptoms of epilepsy. Apparently, the DNA of yeast can be modified so that it produces those cannabinoids at a greater purity and lower cost than if they were extracted from cannabis itself.
And while it may sound pretty outlandish that yeast could be made to produce those signature cannabis chemicals, Ginkgo's head of business development Jess Leber says the process is already being used to synthesize food additives.
"It's something we can wrap our heads around pretty readily." Leber told The Guardian.
Beyond food products, even life-saving medications like insulin are now being synthesized from yeast.
Ginkgo recently signed a $100 million deal with Canadian cannabis producer Cronos Group to help fund their research. And while THC and CBD extracts will prove lucrative in itself, the real excitement is in the new tech's ability to produce other, lesser-known cannabinoids. There are over 100 chemicals found in the cannabis plant, but beyond THC and CBD the others are relatively under-researched and are only found in trace amounts naturally. A process like the one Ginkgo is developing could lead to both huge scientific strides by supplying the compounds to researchers and help fuel new industries if practical uses are developed for these various cannabinoids.