(This column is heavy on science. In the next week or so, maybe I'll write something on cannabis suppositories or what happens if you eat too many medibles before spending the holidays with drunken in-laws.)
LIKE MANY AMERICANS, I consider myself to be fairly smart. This is despite mountains of evidence to the contrary (see "The Stupid Stoner Moments of 2015," Cannabuzz, Jan 6). That said, there are three canna industry professionals in Portland who are so, so, so smart that I get a mild headache after speaking to them (which I attribute to having my mind blown).
Those folks are Jeremy Plumb from Farma, Jeremy Sackett from Cascadia Labs, and Mowgli Holmes from Phylos Bioscience.
Today I'm going to try and explain what Holmes does, as it's insanely cool and important, but without his graphics, it might not translate as well as it could. As such, this is part one of two—we'll check back soon with Holmes and have him give us a more in-depth look at his "genetics viewer" mentioned below.
Holmes is the chief scientific officer for Phylos Bioscience, a Portland-based plant genetics company. I asked him to tell me what it is they do, exactly. He did, as I nodded and pretended to understand more than the 20 percent I was truly grasping, and I then asked him to do so again, only slower. He graciously did so in an email, lightly edited below:
"Phylos Bioscience is bringing modern genomic science to the cannabis industry. Every other plant that humans interact with has an incredible body of genomic knowledge in place. Corn, wheat, barley, rice, tomatoes, apples, spinach—for all these plants we have a complete genome sequence, genetic studies that tell us what the metabolic pathways are, and we know what genes control what traits."
"The result of all this knowledge, in modern agriculture, is that we know how to grow plants safely and effectively. We know what kind of light they need, what kinds of nutrients. We know how to use pesticides on them (sort of). We know how to (really effectively) breed good varieties together to get new strains that have different characteristics."
"For cannabis, we don't know a damn thing. The feds have just made research impossible.
"We've been doing modern molecular genetic research at our OHSU lab for two years, just using cannabis DNA. We're about to have an Oregon state cannabis research license that will let us do plant genetics research on actual plants in a way that's basically unlimited. Once we're set up in our new facility, we'll have the only legal, modern cannabis plant genetics research facility outside of Israel."
"We're currently selling a plant sex determination test that can be a huge benefit to growers who grow from seed—and maybe also encourage more people to stop using clones (which are spreading diseases around, and therefore increasing pesticide use). It uses a genetic assay called qPCR to look for DNA from the male Y chromosome."
"We have a set of genetic microbiology tests that look for bacterial and fungal DNA sequences, and we'll be doing state-mandated microbiology testing for a few Oregon labs starting in 2016."
"We've sequenced 1,500 unique cannabis strains from all over the world, and built an interactive, web-based 3D cannabis population genetics viewer that people can use to see what strains they actually have and how they're related to each other. We'll be offering a commercial genetic strain identity test at some point this winter. We have a beta version of the viewer we can show people now, and we'll probably make it public on our website in March."
"Our new facility will let us do the work of tracking down how cannabis actually controls its behavior genetically. We hope to find the genes that control things like pest-resistance, nutrient uptake, and terpene production in the first year or two, and we plan to offer tools to breeders that will help them use this knowledge to create amazing new plants."
"Also, we're NOT making GMO plants. We think Monsanto sucks. But science can be used for good. And it can definitely be used to help breeders make weed even more incredible."
I wasn't sure what an "interactive, web-based 3D cannabis population genetics viewer" was, but I had to know. Holmes showed me, and ye gods, this is something you need to see to fully appreciate. The beta version should be available soon, and I'll explore it in a future column, along with the value it has for growers and seed breeders—not to mention stoners who just enjoy cool stuff on a computer screen.