Cannabis genes that produce THC and CBD probably came from ancient viruses

Scientists published the first full map of the cannabis genome, along with the findings from that map, and it’s already revealing interesting discoveries. In a study published in the latest issue of Genome Research, a group of North American scientists reported on their discoveries that the genes that encode for THC and CBD originally resulted from viruses that attached themselves to the cannabis plant millions of years ago. The viruses introduced the DNA to the affected plant and successfully colonized its genome. This discovery, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Additional investigation into cannabis genes could reveal vastly more about the plant.

Scientists also discovered the genes responsible for another cannabinoid found in marijuana, CBC, short for Cannabichromene, the genetic differentiation between hemp and marijuana, and evidence as to what makes one cannabis strain more robust and resilient than the other.

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“One of the problems with breeding in cannabis has been the resources associated with looking at the genome,” Todd Michael, Director of Informatics at the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, California told Popular Science, although he was not involved in the study. “A resource like a genetic map is really like the starting point for high-quality breeding, for any plant,” said Michael, noting that a lot of the breeding work so far has followed the pattern of trial and error.

He continued: “All really important crops need these.”

“Having a genetic map combined with a high-quality genome could possibly enable scientists to target specific pathways, especially for people interested in the psychoactive components of cannabis,” said Michael.

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