Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Canadian Scientists Crack Genome of Cannabis Sativa

   It was announced today that a team of Canadian researchers have sequenced the genetic genome of Cannabis sativa, the plant that produces both marijuana and industrial hemp, and in the process have uncovered clues about how the plant gained it's psychoactive properties.

   Jon Page, a plant biochemist at the University of Saskatchewan, explains that a simple genetic switch is likely responsible for the production of THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, the precursor of the active ingredient in marijuana.

   "The transcriptome analysis showed that the THCA synthase gene, an essential enzyme in THCA production, is turned on in marijuana, but switched off in hemp," Page says.

   Page's partner Tim Hughes explains:

   "Detailed analysis of the two genomes suggests that domestication, cultivation, and breeding of marijuana strains has caused the loss of the enzyme (CBDA synthase), which would otherwise compete for the metabolites used as starting material in THCA production," Hughes says.

This means that hemp farmers selectively bred Cannabis sativa into two distinct strains over thousands of years – one for fibre and seed and one for medicine.

   "Plants continue to be a major source of medicines, both as herbal drugs and as pharmaceutical compounds," Page says. "Although more than 20 plant genomes have been published, ranging from major food crops such as rice and corn, to laboratory models like Arabidopsis, this is the first genome of a medicinal plant."

   The researchers hope that the sequencing of the genome might lead to further understanding of the plant's biology and help with the development of the plant's many uses.

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