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The Latest from Tissue Culture and Cannabis

By Laura Kuhl
Jul 27, 2018

Some major benefits of cannabis legalization are the leaps and bounds scientific research is making with marijuana and hemp. With legalization comes access, and some cannabis companies are seizing the opportunity to develop as much as they can when it comes to agricultural technology.

In Cannabis It’s Called Micropropagation

Tissue culture (TC) - or micropropagation - is one piece of agtech that has been developed over the past few decades. The tech specializes in cloning a specific genetic structure of certain plants with a few cells taken from the stem. TC are stored in a special gel and can create hundreds of identical clones that are resistant to pests and disease. For the cannabis industry, TC brings cultivation to a whole new level.

[Read More: Marijuana Weekly Review: Politicians Refuse To Help Veterans With Medical Marijuana]

TC controls the genetics of the plant, and cannabis cultivators can trigger different developments by modifying the sample with hormones and nutrients. These techniques can alter the THC content and give cannabis producers more control over the strains they are breeding. It is more expensive than traditional cloning, but one TC can create hundreds of clones if licensed producers are willing to invest the time.

Over the past twelve months, cannabis companies are exploring their agricultural options. 

The Latest in Tissue Culture & Cannabis

Agricultural life sciences company Segra will be building a new TC lab in Ontario. An agreement with Agripharm, one of Canopy Growth’s (TSX.WEED) (NGSE.CGC) ventures with Green House Seed Company, will evolve into a mass production facility when and if the lab meets its performance goals.

Segra’s tissue culture technology will be intrinsic to the new lab, and Agripharm CEO Peter Miller wants to see it successfully scaled for the cannabis industry. “We expect this partnership to drive meaningful cost improvements while also improving product quality and increasing production efficiencies,” he clarified in a company statement this spring.

TC may require more time upfront - at least a month, according to Cannabis Tech. But overall the micropropagation technology creates multiples of cannabis tissue faster than cloning. One marijuana plant has the potential to produce thousands of copies from a small tissue culture, making it ideal for mass production. The economic effects marijuana companies like Agripharm expect from this technology are already a reality for commercial farms in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Because tissue culture breeds marijuana clones that are resistant to insects and viruses, many farms use TC to revitalize farmland and improve production yields. TC gives cultivators the power to isolate healthy genes and propagate even healthier plants that grow faster, stronger, and with more uniform breeding cycles. For cannabis, TC can produce clean, organic flower that is resistant to disease and easier to breed.

From The Cannabis Industry To Academia

Front Range Biosciences is one agtech company using TC technology for that reason. Last fall, they raised $3 million in bridge round funding to cover this summer’s expansion into California. There they are working with California-native Faith and Family Farms and their signature Clean Stock Program.

Tissue culture technology is also expanding into academics. Front Range announced their research agreement with UC Davis’ premier Department of Viticulture and Enology to study the hemp genome. The research will focus on low-THC hemp for industrial purposes rather than the recreational market. The intention is to garner a better understanding of the cannabis genome as a whole.

The same TC techniques used to control gene mutations and protect plants from disease can be used by cannabis companies to alter THC levels, perfect marijuana strains, and strengthen hemp plants. More than that, marijuana and hemp cultivators can store genetic strains for long periods of time. Storing cannabis clones, known as “tissue banking,” might prove useful as cannabis companies are still in the process of securing land and building cultivation facilities.

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