CRISPR Gene Editing and Stable Seeds: A Tool to Improved Cannabis Production
Due to the increasing demand for hemp, there’s been a dire need to obtain or re-obtain cultivars with desirable traits. Consequently, the quest to recover plants with excellent metabolite production through newer biotechnological techniques is ongoing.
While micropropagation, conservation, cell suspension culture, and many others were under consideration, certain obstacles like the low efficiency of cannabinoid synthesis have so far impeded the use of these approaches in the field.
Thankfully, the advent of modern genetic tools has given scientists broader options and enabled newer testing with more promising techniques such as CRISPR and CRISPR/Cas-9 equipped Agrobacterium-mediated genome editing. These techniques might prove to be the needed catalysts to better gene augmentation, plant regeneration, and metabolite production.
CRISPR Gene Editing in Cannabis Cultivation
Growers want uniform fields with new, improved, high-level, and productive plants without affecting resilience. However, they could only rely on traditional cloning techniques and manual selection (based on mainly subjective predictions) of supposedly stable seeds.
With the global market moving quickly, there is a need for more sustainable ways to improve the cultivation process, and CRISPR appears to be a step in the right direction.
Unlike traditional cloning, where clone variability is high, CRISPR allows experts to make specific genetic changes to the plant without reducing the efficacy of desirable traits.
CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene-editing tool that targets specific strands of DNA for removal through RNA and the enzyme Cas9. It allows the modification of genomes by editing expressed attributes in the plant. With CRISPR, there is a higher probability of attaining uniform seeds for uniform plants than with running on probabilities.
Among the early companies to launch this technology in the field is CanBreed. In 2020, the company reported using gene-editing technology, CRISPR-Cas9, to successfully make a sample cannabis plant resistant to powdery mildew. And now, with the approval to go commercial, it is looking to add several feathers to its wings.
CanBreed reports that the technology has the potential to develop plants with improved agronomic traits, which is essential to increasing the economic viability, profitability, and overall sustainability of both industrial and recreational/therapeutic cannabis crops.
HOW IS CRISPR USED?
Although the CRISPR process modifies DNA, it does not produce a genetically modified organism (GMO) since it does not involve the introduction of foreign DNA.
According to CanBreed, to achieve stable seeds – seeds that grow with exceptional traits, two ideal parent crops were crossbred to obtain their progeny (F1 or first-generation seeds). The progeny were then edited using CRISPR technology.
Summarily, the CRISPR-Cas9 tool locates the section of the DNA the cultivator hopes to change using a suitable gRNA, and the enzyme, Cas9, cuts the area out. This portion is then replaced with a new, more favorable genetic material, finalizing the birth of a more desirable genome.
Other enzymes than Cas-9 can be used in genome engineering. Nevertheless, this endonuclease protein is most preferred because it is easy to work with and possesses all the relevant functionalities.
Kindly note: “Genetic uniformity” is natural in most crops like tomatoes, for example. However, the vast gene pool of the cannabis crop makes it naturally inconsistent.
Still, this modification has certain flaws. While identical genetics might alleviate specific agricultural issues, phenomena like mutation can risk the yield in a field of genetically-uniform stable seeds with no resistance to novel threats.
Notwithstanding, science is not finished. Further research with this technology might address these issues. Meanwhile, there are always new antimicrobials to combat new microbial challenges.
A PEEK INTO THE FUTURE
Some of the modifications this technology might offer include:
- A quick way to create disease-resistant plants.
- More climate-tolerant plants.
- Higher trichome density for enhanced cannabinoid and terpene synthesis.
- Improvement of cannabinoid synthesis and production.
HOW FAR ALONG ARE WE?
CanBreed is not the only company making waves with this technology. Ebbu, a company now owned by Canopy Growth, also specializes in creating consistent cannabis experiences. Their innovations include using water-soluble cannabinoids and CRISPR genome editing to create incredibly potent hemp cultivars.
The company is not just focusing on the more prevalent cannabinoids. Instead, they are working towards enhancing the production of less prevalent ones, like CBG. Their goal is to trigger the superior yield of these cannabinoids through gene editing.
Ebbu illustrates the production pathway as a form of traffic. If specific routes are closed, the cannabis plant will focus on other cannabinoids, which means less of one compound might equal more of another due to more material availability.
However, since CRISPR technology is a relatively new one in the commercial market, it might take a while for its implementation to take off.
ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES WITHIN THE FIELD?
While some researchers seek to improve phytocannabinoid synthesis within the plant, others aim at developing microbial-derived cannabinoids through genetically-enhanced microorganisms.
Nevertheless, the cannabis industry cannot pull ahead without standardization and regulation. Thus, states and governing bodies are becoming more accommodating to the pertinent risks and processes of the industry.
With improving technologies along the way and seed-to-sale tracking in place, the industry is progressively edging towards a sustainable and revolutionary trend.