The genetic makeup of each cannabis strain can have a significant impact on its attributes and effects.
The proliferation of legal cannabis across North America has underscored the importance of cannabis genetics and artificial selection.
The legalization of cannabis across major jurisdictions in North America has created a new marketplace for consumer goods. In the modern cannabis industry, we have seen exponential growth in product diversity, including innovative concentrated forms such as oils, soft gel pills, shatter and vape pen cartridges. When it comes to the cannabis flower itself, which also serves as an input for oils and concentrates, the quality and genetic makeup of each strain have become even more important, with major corporations and innovative cannabis companies working to improve their base product. Driven by cannabis connoisseurs and medical users in need of strains that produce unique remedial effects, the legalization of the cannabis industry has caused an explosion of innovation when it comes to cultivating the optimal cannabis plant.
Driven by this product variety, a number of cannabis cultivators and researchers have begun creating uniquely-tailored strains optimized for each particular use-case through the process of artificial selection. Artificial selection has been common practice in farming for centuries, with farmers routinely selecting the best plants and breeding their superior genetics after each crop rotation to improve the following harvest. In the cannabis space, the art of artificial selection and marker-assisted breeding have enabled cultivators to optimize the size, color, smell, density and texture of the resulting cannabis crop. The diversity of cannabis strains currently known to cultivators and researchers has created a new field within the cannabis industry, with licensed producers working alongside researchers and product designers to optimize strains for their unique use-cases and subsequent requirements.
Cannabis genetics and artificial selection
You don’t have to be a master grower to understand that premium-quality flower is necessary to create premium-quality cannabis concentrates. Just as premium grapes are necessary to create the finest wines, so too are premium flowers a necessary input to create a quality concentrate product. “The starting material is the most important factor in determining the end quality of each extraction. A cannabis plant’s genetics are the starting material and hold extreme value for each strain to reach its potential,” said Will Hyde, cannabis strain specialist and co-host of Leafly’s “What Are You Smoking?” podcast. In addition to the optimal effects enjoyed by recreational uses, the emergence of the medical cannabis market has further emphasized the importance of artificial selection in pursuit of medical strains designed for specific medical needs.
When it comes to quality cannabis flower, consistency is paramount. Due to regulatory requirements and product standards commonly found in North American cannabis markets, major cannabis brands with large-scale operations often select consistent, high-quality cannabis strains for their product lines. The effect, potency, aroma, taste and yield of a cannabis crop can all largely be informed by genetics. “Genetics hold the key to your bud’s effects, flavors, vigor and growth attributes,” said Hyde on his podcast. “Every strain carries a unique genotype that serves as a blueprint for its growth, as well as a specific phenotype that is influenced by its environmental factors and affects a range of strain attributes like color, smell, structure and potency.”
Cannabis genetics enabling strain development
Strategically-minded cannabis producers have recognized the importance of genetics, with a number of licensed producers across the continent working to secure the strains and genetics that can be applied to unique new product designs. In British Columbia, upstart cannabis company PacRoots Cannabis (CSE:PACR) has finalized an agreement to collaborate with cannabis experts at Phenome One, with complete access to the company’s database of over 350 unique cannabis strains that have been carefully field-tested and artificially selected over 30 years of research. “This is a major opportunity for PacRoots to be positioned to offer customers an extensive collection of cannabis cultivars. At PacRoots, we pride ourselves and our customers with quality and we are thrilled with the opportunity to partner with Phenome One, establishing a robust strain portfolio that compares favorably with others in the Canadian cannabis space,” said Patrick Elliott President and CEO of PacRoots.
Phenome One’s extensive database includes proprietary high-THC strains, cannabidiol-dominant strains with rare terpene profiles, and custom strains finely tailored for medical purposes. Moving forward, PacRoots intends to leverage Phenome One’s intellectual property relating to the growing, breeding, and cloning of cannabis cultivars to optimize its offerings. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on efficient operations in the cannabis industry, which PacRoots believes could cause cannabis companies to focus on the genetic profile of their inputs. “The ‘new normal’ has amplified our business, as cultivators demand the efficiency to produce better yields and products for the end-user while maintaining product integrity and potency. Suitable genetics, articular process, and data collection to optimize yield for specific climates are essential to compete in this new global cannabis industry,” said Elliott.
Major producers such as Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC,TSX:WEED) have long recognized the importance of cannabis genetics in establishing efficient operations. “You can get more yield off of a plant if you can refine the genetics and that allows us to have more grams, more kilograms coming out of this place per year,” said Jordan Sinclair, Canopy Growth’s vice president of communications, during a 2019 interview at the company’s Tweed Farms operations. Following in the footsteps of major producers like Canopy, cannabis genetics specialists such as PacRoots have an opportunity to secure a unique foothold in the cannabis industry by applying science at the greenhouse level.
Whether for medical or recreational use, cannabis companies of all sizes are working to optimize cannabis strains to produce effects tailored to specific use-cases. At the cultivation level, the artificial selection of cannabis strains has also enabled companies to maximize the size of their crops, enabling more efficient operations with every harvest.
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