We have heard a lot about CRISPR in the past few years. What exactly is CRISPR? And what does that mean for the future of cannabis production?
The discovery of CRISPR
In 1972, biochemists Stanley N. Cohen and Herbert W. Boyer were the first to cut DNA into fragments. It was one of many milestones that revolutionized genetic modification. Since then, scientists have changed the genome of various plants and species. And this is changing food production, medicine and other sectors.
Much has changed in the last ten years.
In 2011, two scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, began their collaboration. They soon helped to develop the most powerful – and most controversial – method for gene editing to date, which is called CRISPR / Cas9 or CRISPR for short.
What is CRISPR?
Three main categories of gene editing. Image Credit: CRISPRTx
CRISPR (pronounced “crispier”) is often referred to as “genetic scissors”. It’s a powerful gene editing tool. Because it enables scientists to quickly and accurately cut out genes and insert them into DNA. It has endless uses and is already used in cannabis production around the world.
From a technical point of view, CRISPR / Cas9 consists of two parts: the Cas9 enzyme and a piece of RNA.
The Cas9 enzyme is a protein that cuts the strands of DNA at a precise location in the genome. Then the RNA, called guide RNA (gRNA), is a 17-20 nucleotide sequence that binds to DNA and leads the enzyme to the right part of the genome. If the cell is “broken” after that, scientists can insert the correct version of the gene to make the cell function properly. Eventually, the cell recognizes that the DNA is damaged and repairs it.
What does this mean for cannabis production?
CRISPR revolutionized gene editing on many fronts. It made gene editing inexpensive, efficient, and easy. CRISPR is so simple that it can now be customized in a variety of ways:
- It is used in medicine and agriculture and can also change the future of biofuels.
- CRISPR even has the potential to cut allergens out of foods like peanuts.
- The best part is that CRISPR works the same for all species, including plants.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would not regulate CRISPR modified plants as long as the modifications are made using related plant DNA.
The future looks bright for cannabis companies. In 2018, Ebbu, a company acquired by Canopy Growth Corp, was one of the first to use gene editing technology to produce single strains of cannabinoid. In the same year, Sunrise Genetics successfully mapped the cannabis genome. In 2020, CanBreed, an Israeli genetic seed company, received a CRISPR / Cas9 patent, making it the first CRISPR license in the cannabis industry.
Companies can now innovate faster (thanks to the USDA’s deregulation process) and grow cannabis more efficiently while saving money.
What are the advantages?
In cannabis production, the benefits of CRISPR gene editing are endless:
- Some plants can be upgraded to express stronger indica or sativa traits.
- Some can be modified to produce more cannabinoids and terpenes.
- CRISPR can also remove unwanted genes to produce high quality buds every time.
- It can also be used to inhibit, eliminate, or increase THC production as needed.
- CRISPR can also pave the way to understanding and creating cannabinoids other than THC and CBD.
- Other benefits include increasing crop yields while minimizing nutrient and chemical consumption – an asset for growers who want to reduce their dependence on pesticides.
With CRISPR, the cannabis industry has the potential to capitalize on the US government’s lax regulation of gene editing technology. Industry can create new strains, reduce unwanted genes, modify the smallest of traits, the list goes on. Ethical concerns remain with the use of this technology. To date, CRISPR is one of the most powerful tools for editing genes. Time will only tell what the future holds for gene editing in cannabis production.
What do you think of the use of CRISPR technology in cannabis production? Is it an exciting new frontier or a technology that needs to be used with caution? Let us know in the comments.