Cannabis Genome Should Be Mapped to Enhance Health and Crops, Researchers Say

Releasing the full benefit of cannabis for agriculture and people’s health will need a co-ordinated scientific attempt in order to collect and map the plant’s genome, new research says.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers led by scientists from the University of Saskatchewan. It was published in the Annual Review of Plant Biology, with the authors saying that there are broad gaps in the scientific knowledge of this high-demand, multi-purpose plant.

“Considering the importance of genomics in the development of any crop, this analysis underlines the need for a coordinated effort to quantify the genetic and biochemical diversity of this species,” the authors state.

About 50 Percent of Cannabis Genome is Not Mapped Yet

The team of researchers, which include experts from The Netherlands, Germany, and the United States, discovered that less than 50 percent of the cannabis genome is precisely mapped, with approximately ten percent of the genome missing and another ten to 25 percent unmapped.

“This means that we lack the foundation on which to build a molecular breeding program for cannabis comparable to what exists for other crops,” said lead author Tim Sharbel, a plant scientist in the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources. “Developing a high-quality genetic blueprint would provide the building blocks for genomics-based breeding and applications to human and animal health while strengthening university-industry partnerships.”

The discoveries will be a foundation for numerous kinds of research lead through the USask-led Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan (CRIS), said Sharbel.

“These data are crucial for setting up a core collection of genotypes which can be used to study various cannabis traits,” he said.

The Plant Can be Used in Medical Purposes

The author also mentioned the fact that recent societal and governmental acceptance of the plant has produced increased interest by companies in medical uses of cannabis. He is currently seeking collaborators to help fund academic research that will map, contrast, and fully employ the closely related genome of cannabis, hemp, and hops.

“This initiative would become part of an industry-driven effort to exchange resources and improve cannabis, hemp, and hops for medicinal and industrial properties,” he said. “If we can publish case studies to show that certain compounds can treat human disorders with statistical significance, then getting such information into the medicare system—for example, as a basis for a Drug Identification Number assigned to a drug product before it can be marketed in Canada—would be of great benefit to companies.”

Cannabis as a Food Source

The team of researchers discovered, in the limited information that currently exists, support for the potential health benefits of cannabis, such as treatments for pain, spasticity in multiple sclerosis, and opioid use decrease.

“It is critical to recognize cannabis and cannabinoids as drugs with potential benefits and associated risks, as would be the case for the investigation of any novel drug,” the authors state.

The team also noted there is proof that the development of a hemp-type cannabis digestible, protein-rich food source that would most definitely cause no allergic reactions is possible.

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