Sunday, November 27, 2011

High on Genetics

The genome of Cannabis sativa, a plant used to produce two kinds of crops, hemp and marijuana was recently sequenced by a group of Canadian researchers. According to the article, the genome results reveal the specific genes in the plant that either give the plant its drug-producing properties or distinguish it from the none drug-producing plant that is used for seeds and fibre. According to the study, a simple genetic switch of the production of THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is responsible for giving the plant it’s active ingredient to produce drugs. The THCA synthase gene is turned on to produce the plant with drug capabilities, but turned off to produce the non-drug plant used for hemp. The research shows that since the plant that produces hemp lacks THCA, it does contain CBDA or cannabidiolic acid. The production of the acid is possible because of the loss of an enzyme that would have been used for production of THCA. The reason that this plant can be used for two different and separate uses is because over almost 2700 years, this plant has been domesticated and grown by farmers who’ve used selective breeding giving this plant the ability to grow in the two distinct strains. This research is useful because it is the first genome of a medicinal plant. This helps better understand plants that can be used for medicinal purposes as well as the production of hemp and hemp oil, which is an essential fatty acid. The original research for this article can be found through PubMed.

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