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Deciphered genetic makeup of marijuana

Deciphered genetic makeup of marijuana

Genes make the difference in the effect

Canadian researchers have used a genome analysis to find out why numerous hemp varieties contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in intoxicating amounts, but not useful hemp.

The University of Toronto scientists compared the genome structure of commercial hemp with that of THC-containing marijuana of the "Purple Kush" variety. The researchers discovered the molecular causes that cause some hemp plants to have a particularly high intoxication effect, while others have no effect whatsoever.

530 million building blocks of the marijuana genome The researchers led by Jon Page and Tim Hughes from the University of Toronto sequenced the genome of the marijuana variety "Purple Kush" and then compared their results with the already known genome structure of hemp. Like all marijuana strains, "Purple Kush" was derived from traditional hemp (Cannabis sativa) through targeted breeding. However, the original plant only has such small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that it has no intoxicating effect. "Purple Kush", however, is one of the particularly THC-containing varieties. In the current issue of the specialist magazine "Genome Biology", the Canadian scientists present the complete genome of the special marijuana variety and contrast it with the genome of the original hemp plant. The experts list around 30,000 genes with a total of more than 530 million components of the "Purple Kush".

THC-producing enzyme discovered When comparing the genome of hemp and “Purple Kush”, the researchers paid particular attention to the differences in the enzymes that are involved in THC production. Page and Hughes discovered here in the "Purple Kush" an enzyme that produces the psychoactive substance - 9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase. In addition, "the detailed analysis of both genomes suggests that conversion, cultivation and breeding have led to the loss of another enzyme (in the Purple Kush)," the experts say. The intoxicating marijuana varieties also lack the enzyme "CBDA synthase", which converts the chemical precursors from THC to other substances so that less THC is formed. Since this competing use in “Purple Kush” is no longer available, significantly more raw material remains that can be used for THC production, explained Page and Hughes.

Improving the Medical Use of THC The results of the Canadian researchers are also of special importance from a medical point of view, since the use of marijuana as a medicine primarily aims at the effects of the contained THC. The medical prescription or therapeutic use could thus be explicitly geared towards hemp varieties that contain a particularly large amount of the enzyme 9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase. The discovery of the THC-producing enzyme also offers new approaches for the future cultivation of marijuana plants. (fp)

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Image: Susanne Schmich / pixelio.de

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