Tag Archives: genetics

Researching Cannabis Genetics: A Q&A with CJ Schwartz, Ph.D.

By Aaron G. Biros
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Studying cannabis genetics is a convoluted issue. Strain classification, medicinal effects and plant breeding are particular areas in the science of cannabis that still require heavy research. Marigene, a company researching cannabis genetics, is currently working with universities and research institutes to help map the cannabis genome and catalog genetic variation.

cjschwartzmarigene
CJ Schwartz, Ph.D.

According to CJ Schwartz, Ph.D., chief executive officer and founder of Marigene, their mission is to “to classify, certify, and improve cannabis.” After studying genetics and cellular biology at the University of Minnesota, Schwartz received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin. His research in the past decade has focused on genetic variations that control flowering time, discovering the expression of a gene called Flowering Locus T leads to differential flowering time of plants and is dependent on their native locations. We sat down with Schwartz to learn more about his research and collaborative efforts.


Cannabis Industry Journal: Why are you researching mapping the cannabis genome?

CJ Schwartz, Ph.D: We seek to identify the genetic differences among cannabis strains and the genes responsible for these differences. Genetic differences are what cause different strains to have different effects. DNA allows reproducibility, consistency, and transparency for your cannabis strains.

The more information we gather about cannabis genetics, the more tools we have available to create tailored strains. Cannabis is a targeted compound. It interacts with a very specific system in the human body, similar to hormones, such as insulin. Understanding the cannabis genome will help bring legitimacy and integrity to cannabis products, and allow us to better understand how chemicals from cannabis interact with the human brain. Genetic identification can provide a method of certification to more comprehensively describe plant material.

Schwartz doing sample preparation on the lab bench.
Schwartz doing sample preparation on the lab bench.

CIJ: How did you get involved in cannabis research?

Schwartz: My interest in cannabis guided my research career. Cannabis may not be a cure-all, but it has significant and measurable medicinal effects for many patients.

To allow true development of cannabis products, we need more science! Our genetic analysis is required for normalization and acceptance of cannabis products, but also essential for future breeding efforts to develop better and more useful plants.

Our sister company, Hempgene, is applying all of the same technology and techniques for hemp research. One focus of Hempgene is to manipulate flowering time in select hemp cultivars so that they mature at the appropriate time in different environments.

CIJ: What do you hope to accomplish with your research?

Schwartz: We can develop or stabilize a plant that produces a very specific chemical profile for a specific condition, such as seizures, nausea or pain. By breeding plants tailored to a patient’s specific ailment, a patient can receive exactly the medicine that they need and minimize negative side effects.

The current term describing the interaction of cannabis compounds is called the entourage effect. Interactions among compounds can be additive or synergistic. The entourage effect describes synergistic effects, where small amounts of compound A (e.g. Myrcene) vastly increase the effects of compound B (e.g. THC). Instead of flooding one’s body with an excessive amount of chemicals to get a non-specific effect, cannabis plants can be bred to produce a very specific effect.

labmarigene
A view of some of the work stations inside the laboratory at Marigene.

Currently our goal is to catalog the natural genetic variation of cannabis, and to identify DNA changes that affect a trait of interest. Once superior variants of a gene are identified, those variants can be combined, by marker-assisted breeding, to produce new combinations of genes. How different cannabis chemicals interact to produce a desired effect, and how different human genetics influence the efficacy of those chemicals should be the ultimate goal of medical marijuana research.

We are working closely with academic institutions and chemical testing labs to gather data for establishing correlations between specific cannabis strains and desirable chemical profiles. Our closest collaborator, Dr. Nolan Kane at UC-Boulder, is working to complete the Cannabis genomic sequence and generate the first high- resolution cannabis genetic map.

We are currently accepting samples and we produce a report in roughly two to three months. For one sequencing run, we identify 125 million pieces of DNA that are 100 base pairs long. We get so much information so there is a considerable time commitment.

Tech Startup Seeking Investors for Cannabis Data Research Tool

By Aaron G. Biros
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Innovations in technology used for cannabis research have the potential to lead to major breakthroughs and discoveries for the plant’s various applications. Software and information technologies are particularly useful for sorting through the tremendous amount of data required in medical research and the cannabis industry. Tímea Polgár, founder of CannaData, worked in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries previously as a molecular biologist and computational chemist.

Tímea Polgár, founder of CannaData
Tímea Polgár, founder of CannaData

Her background in informatics, pharmaceutical research, molecular biology and chemistry brings her to the cannabis industry to study the plant in an herbal medicine context using high-tech informatics. Polgár, originally from Hungary, received her PhD from Budapest University of Technology and Engineering in pharmaceutical drug discovery. She has worked as a senior research scientist at Gedeon Richter in Budapest and as a senior molecular modeler at Servier, Inc. in Paris, France. After leaving the pharmaceutical industry, she began working at a startup called Chemaxon, a chemistry informatics company working on scientific business development. Polgár has worked for years in scientific business development, leveraging technology and knowledge to businesses, which brought her to work across multiple disciplines.

CannaData is essentially a software tool used to gather information on strain genetics, chemical components of different strains, molecular mechanisms of different strains and the medicinal effects. According to Polgár, the company plans to build a continuously growing data repository in conjunction with computational modeling and research in determining entourage effects to pinpoint how active chemical agents in cannabis interact. The tool will help scientists find areas of the plant that need more studying and areas that are inert. In addition to the database, CannaData will provide scientific analysis of data from seed banks, laboratories, clinics and other businesses collecting data in the cannabis industry.

A flowchart of the scientific concept behind herbal medicine research
A flowchart of the scientific concept behind herbal medicine research

Polgár’s organization is currently seeking investors to launch the project in hopes of connecting the cannabis industry, herbal medicine and computational chemistry for more accurate scientific research and understanding of the plant. According to Polgár, research and development of disease-fighting drugs has long had a narrow-minded approach. “Herbal medicine is very complex with numerous active chemical components. Recent technological and computational advancements have made it possible to study these chemical network interactions,” says Polgár. “The cannabis industry could provide a pioneering route for the novel concept of combining herbal medicinal research with information technology, furthering our molecular understanding of the benefits of cannabis.”

A flowchart breaking down the chemical composition of cannabis
A flowchart breaking down the chemical composition of cannabis

Polgár believes that this type of research has the ability to help support standardization and quality control in the cultivation of cannabis. “We are linking technologies to herbal medicine and cannabis where there is a huge need to manage, extract and analyze data,” says Polgár. “Today, there are computational technologies that can manage this quantity of information required to model and understand herbal molecular mechanisms and we will be the first ones to do so on a commercial level.”

A flowchart describing the technical concept of CannaData, depicting the utility of a data repository
The technical concept of CannaData, depicting the utility of a data repository

Polgár’s organization is seeking investors looking to innovate in the areas of life sciences, pharmaceutical research and software development. Through bringing broad information technological solutions from research to the cannabis industry, CannaData hopes to serve analytical laboratories with chemical informatics software services. Ultimately, this project will serve the cannabis industry by analyzing data on strain genetics and known chemical profiles of cannabis, furthering scientific research on cannabis.