America: land of the free, home of the genetically enhanced organism.
For better or worse, an anonymous scientist – during a Reddit AMA interview – from a cannabis lab claims that his team just identified the genes in cannabis that produce THC, which is one of the chemicals that get you high when you smoke a joint. He reports they may start work on identifying the other genes that produce the other chemicals in cannabis that get you high in other ways, but their focus is solely on THC for now.
So what can we do with that information besides sounding really smart when passing the bong to the left? Well, once we know what a gene or set of genes can do…
- We can insert those genes into an organism that would otherwise not have those genes.
- We can also manipulate those genes in an organism that naturally carries those genes.
The first possibility – inserting the genes into other organisms – is perhaps the most mind blowing of the two. Can you imagine growing corn that naturally produces THC? What about maple trees that produce THC-laced syrup, or a cow that grows THC in its own meat? Brilliant!
Well, sorry to kill your high, but that’s probably never going to happen. THC has to be heated to a certain temperature before the human body can process it, so we likely won’t ever see brilliant cross-species organisms that take edibles to the next level. However, what is likely to occur is what already happens in science labs around the World right now.
When scientists identify a gene that produces a desired chemical, they insert the gene into a harmless micro-organism, like a type of bacteria. The micro-organism reproduces at a rapid rate, making mass quantities of the chemical that is later extracted very easily. You get a large supply of the desired chemical in a fraction of the time it takes for the original organism, such as a marijuana plant, to produce it.
It’s a low-cost, safe and easy way for corporations to make drugs, and it’s how we make insulin and many other important pharmaceuticals right now. I know the corporatization of cannabis isn’t exactly a stoner’s dream, but for medical applications, you have to admit, it’s promising.
The second possibility above – manipulating organisms that naturally have these genes – opens up a new world of “craft cannabis” possibilities.
The scientist reports that the lab can now adjust the THC genes in marijuana plants to grow the most powerful cannabis we’ve ever seen. Up until now, farmers have improved upon marijuana in the way we improve upon dog breeds: selective breeding, meaning farmers seek out plants that have the most desired properties and only breed those plants. Selective breeding works wonders, but it’s a rather slow process that is more like controlled evolution. It only allows us to produce plants as strong as mother nature allows.
By manually controlling the genes that produce THC, we can make new strains of super weed beyond the kushes we know and love today. For medical patients, it also means we can control the exact ratio of chemicals within cannabis to produce a high with exactly the desired effects, such as more pain killing properties or more anti-inflammatory properties.
Welcome to the future, where bacteria grow THC and Dr. Dre works at Apple. Know more.