Phytocannainoid Bio-Manufacturing

With the rise of medical cannabis, many scientists are considering how to meet the demand for phytocannabinoids for medical use in the near future while also making it affordable at large scales. The company CB Therapeutics, according to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, is looking into translating the genes for manufacturing cannabinoids and placing them in yeast. Although many purists, especially those in France, who have been exploited by genetically modified organisms in a form of economic slavery, this sort of genetic modification away from the natural form of the plant Cannabis sativa is akin to sacrilege.

I think that the purists’ point of view is a compelling one and is inherent to the idea that returning to the natural plant is better than a pharmaceutical approach. However, that is not going to stop the progress of scientists to make a more affordable and scalable way to obtain large quantities of phytocannibinoids. Therefore, I think we should consider the idea and how it might be achieved as naturally as possible.

My wife- a biochemist by education- mentioned this idea to me last night, although her idea was to use algae instead of yeast. Could we use this technology to create algae that secrete phytocannabinoids more efficiently than cannabis itself can, while maintaining its plant-based biochemical nature? It is very possible that we can transplant the genetic machinery of manufacturing cannabinoids and terpenes to algae that could result in true strains that would produce very stable chemovariants.

Although we would be changing some of the genetics of algae, phytocannabinoids are already found naturally in algae and it may mean more of a tweaking than of a complete genetic transplantation. Additionally, this may be more useful for isolating large quantities of the less-common cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, CBC, THCv, and others rather than for large-scale production of THC or CBD, which Cannabis sativa does quite well on its own through traditional breeding methods. Many of these cannabinoids are difficult to produce in large quantities using traditional breeding methods but they still might be medically useful.

This paper titled, “Designing microorganisms for heterologous biosynthesis of cannabinoids” is an excellent resource for the conceptual design of algae or yeast and what genes would be involved. Again, although this is anathema to people who want Cannabis sativa to be used in its natural state, that will not stop scientists from achieving it. It is likely that this will not alter the traditional breeding of cannabis and its medicinal use. However, it may be a resource that could be used to drive the production of difficult to isolate cannabinoids that have significant medicinal potential, thereby increasing support for the medicinal potential of cannabis and cannabinoids.

Ethan Carruthers