Is there a future for GMO-hemp? And what is GMO-hemp in the first place? Marijuana has been selectively bred for decades, which is why it is so much stronger today than it was, say, 20 years ago. But simple crossbreeding doesn’t constitute as genetic modification, which is what we are going to talk about today.
What does GMO mean?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism that has had its DNA altered by genetic engineering, however, the exact definition of what constitutes as GMO varies. Regular crossbred plants might be considered as GMO by some, but, in the scientific field, GMO usually refers to the genetic modification or engineering of organisms with the help of artificial methods like gene-splicing, where either human-made genes or genes from foreign organisms get inserted into another living being’s DNA.
GMOs have many potential use-cases, such as making organisms more resistant, changing their effects or increasing their longevity, but the public opinion on genetic engineering is not the best. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding GMOs, but there are also some real concerns. Genetic engineering is not an easy task and there is a lot of information that we have yet to learn. We could possibly encounter problems in the future that we can’t even imagine right now.
So, what are GMOs good for, you might ask yourself, and how can the marijuana and hemp industries profit off of them?
GMOs and hemp
By crossbreeding specific strains, one can create a new strain that possesses features of both of the original strains. This technique has been used for a long time and it is the reason for shorter flower times, higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) levels and pretty much all of the other differences between the weed from back then and the cannabis from today. That being said, actual GMO-hemp is a very recent development.
While there have been many rumors about Monsanto secretly producing GMO-marijuana over the past decades, Monsanto has publicly called those out to be just that — rumors.
A study that was recently published in the nature journal shows that yeast can be genetically modified to produce cannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in marijuana. The study, which was led by Jay D. Keasling, who is a chemical engineering and bioengineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, shows that yeast can be used to produce CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) and THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid).
These are the chemical precursors to CBD and THC, which are the two most well-known cannabinoids. The study also reports the complete biosynthesis of some other major cannabinoids.
Genetic modification techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9 can be used to insert a cannabis-derived gene into the DNA of the yeast. This gene instructs the yeast to produce olivetolic acid, which is a precursor compound of THC and CBD. Furthermore, the team that did the study also added genes that instructed the yeast to produce the enzymes that turn olivetolic acid into CBD or THC. And all the yeast needs to do that is simple sugar.
This means that there is a way to produce cannabinoids without needing actual cannabis plants, which is great, seeing as cannabis plants are still illegal in many countries or at least strictly regulated. With this new finding, it will potentially become way easier to study cannabinoids.
GMOs can also be used to balance the cannabinoid levels to one’s liking. Some genetically modified hemp and marijuana plants are also resistant to mould, viruses or bacteria, which actually makes them a realistic alternative to regular, non-GMO cannabis. Considering that it wouldn’t be the first time that some banned pesticides somehow end up on your bud.
Additionally, just last month, a company called Trait Biosciences reportedly created the world’s first fully transformed cannabis plant with its technology. One that produces water soluble cannabinoids, nonetheless.
While there have already been multiple attempts at creating a fully transformed cannabis plant, up until now, the cannabis plants never passed on the changed gene to the next generation. But this breakthrough is just the beginning.
Closing thoughts on GMO hemp and marijuana
With hemp and marijuana becoming more and more popular, sooner or later, there will undeniably come a point at which GMO hemp will gain some traction. There are a lot of possibilities and potential benefits that come with GMO hemp and we are just now seeing some of them unfold. However, in the end, its future is still going to depend on the public’s opinion. If people don’t trust the idea of genetically modified hemp, they aren’t going to use it.
And considering how well people took regular GMO food or plants, there is a lot of misinformation left to clear up.