Apparently, cannabis DNA can be used to genetically reproduce cannabinoids without having to grow the cannabis plant itself. If you have seen Jurassic Park, then you already get the drift.
Boston-based biotech company Gingko Bioworks Inc. and Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group Inc. have teamed up to work on a breakthrough that could redefine the science of cannabis production.
Why “artificially” reproduce cannabinoids?
You might ask why the need to use genetic engineering to reproduce cannabinoids when these compounds are found in cannabis and cannabis plants are not even that hard to grow naturally.
True. Cannabis plants are not that difficult to grow and cultivate. And there are more than a hundred cannabinoids or active chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. The two most popular and most market-worthy are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Cannabis also has dozens of other cannabinoids that are recreationally or medically relevant. The only problem is that these other cannabinoids occur only in small amounts that there is no profitable way to extract them. This means that in order for users to obtain these rare cannabinoids, they have to consume the cannabis in flower or other whole-plant form.
This is why Gingko Bioworks and Cronos Group are working to change this. More specifically, Gingko Bioworks is working for Cronos Group to develop genetic engineering methods to recreate these cannbinoids even without the plant.
The objective is for Gingko to isolate the uncommon and trace cannabinoids and sequence the parts of the genome that are responsible of producing them. Gingko will then use the DNA sequence to produce these rare cannabinoids artificially in large quantities.
What are these rare but relevant cannabinoids?
One example of a rare and trace cannabinoids is delta-8-THC, which is an isomer of the more common THC (formally called delta-9-THC). THC concentrates that you can buy in dispensaries and cannabis stores most likely won’t contain delta-8.
Unlike delta-9, delta-8 has a lower psychoactive footprint, which means that it does not create a high. Yet, it offers additional medicinal benefits that delta-9 does not. In fact, research has strongly correlated delta-8 with tumor reduction and death of cancer cells.
Whole plant cultivators and extract manufacturers are not likely able to grow cannabis plants and then produce enough delta-8 cartridges to bring to the market. It is also unlikely that they would be able to breed cannabis strains that contain high concentrations of delta-8.
Gingko Biotech is aiming for this kind of breakthrough, wherein they can sequence the DNA of the cannabis plant that naturally produces delta-8-THC. They can then genetically engineer large amounts of delta-8 in the lab. If this happens, it may lead to the development of a new kind of cannabis-derived cancer treatment.
The pros and cons of artificially reproducing cannabinoids
Reproducing other organisms and substances via genetic engineering has its own share of advantages and disadvantages. So does reproducing cannabinoids.
One key advantage of artificially reproducing cannabinoids is the fact that lab synthesis is not subject to climate, terrain, and grow conditions, or to other regional variables. All factors will be more predictable and more consistent, and therefore more cost-effective.
However, Cronos Group CEO Mike Gorsenstein admits that this innovation could potentially make traditional cannabis cultivation and extraction obsolete. This means that the global cannabis industry may experience a paradigm shift.