The leading agricultural university will team up with a private, Colorado-based company to map the genome of the hemp plant.
By Julia Clark-Riddell
The University of California, Davis announced that they have joined forces with Front Range Biosciences — a private Colorado firm focused on biotechnology — to launch a genomics research initiative that will attempt to understand the hemp plant’s medical and pharmaceutical uses.
The research collaboration will be led by Professor Dario Cantu, but it will also include members of the Front Range Biosciences team, according to a statement released at the end of October.
“We have successfully applied cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies and computational approaches to study challenging genomes of diverse crops and associated microorganisms,” said Dr. Cantu, in the press release. “We are now excited to have the opportunity to study the genome of hemp. Decoding its genome will allow us to gain new insight into the genetic bases of complex pathways of secondary metabolism in plants.”
Both California and Colorado have voted to legalize industrial hemp, as well as recreational cannabis. The genome project will have almost no federal oversight, as much cannabis research does, because of the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which permits hemp cultivation for research when it’s been approved by a state’s agricultural department.
“UC Davis is renowned as the leading agriculture university in the world and we are excited to work with Dr. Cantu’s team to improve this crop to reduce pesticide residues and excessive application of fertilizers, in preparation for production targeting medically beneficial compounds.”
During the project, Front Range Biosciences will isolate DNA from hemp plants, and then send the DNA samples to UC Davis for Next-Generation Sequencing and analysis to create a better genome reference for hemp. It won’t be illegal for Front Range Biosciences send those DNA samples through the mail to Davis, California, because the DNA samples will have absolutely no THC included.
Dr. Jonathan Vaught, the CEO of Front Range Biosciences, said that his company is excited to about the cross-state, public-private collaboration.
“UC Davis is renowned as the leading agriculture university in the world and we are excited to work with Dr. Cantu’s team to improve this crop to reduce pesticide residues and excessive application of fertilizers, in preparation for production targeting medically beneficial compounds,” Vaught said.
The project has been funded with a gift from Front Range Biosciences to the Regents of the University of California system.
Vaught told cannabis outlet Merry Jane that he believes Front Range Biosciences can use the genetic information they obtain through this collaboration to create new breeds of hemp with specific new structural properties, which sounds, in essence, like genetically modified cannabis.
“It’s going to take a community to crack this nut,” Vaught told Merry Jane. “It’s a brand new genome, it’s a brand new crop. The genetic pool is very mixed up at this point, and there’s just a lot of groundwork we need to do before we can do the really exciting things that people think about with crops.”