An important piece of the heritable trait research New West Genetics is investigating includes the chemical profiles of the species. Cannabis sativa is a chemically complex plant, containing many compounds, (over 400! (Atakan, 2012) New West Genetics is first focusing on cannabinoids and terpenes.
Terpenes are a large class of volatile organic hydrocarbons. In plants, they function in many vital physiological processes including the plant’s response to environmental factors such as such as pathogen and photooxidative stresses (Tholl, 2006). Terpenes from hops (Humulus lupulus, the closest relative to Cannabis), such as myrcene and humulene, serve as major aromatic and flavor compounds in beer. Cannabis synthesizes significant amounts of many terpenes including myrcene and humulene. NWG is currently exploring the range of variation in hemp terpene profile across diverse hemp cultivars. This will lead to an understanding of their impacts on floral aromatic qualities and enable the next phase of genetics discovery which will employ quantitative genetics approaches enabled by modern sequencing technology.
Understanding the inheritance of hemp terpene ratios will enable us to more effectively create new varieties demonstrating novel terpene profiles. Varieties demonstrating these modified profiles will exhibit aromatic qualities similar to and different from, traditional hops varieties used in the brewing industry. This differentiation will provide an entirely new avenue of flavoring and aroma opportunities to beer makers in the rapidly evolving craft beer market.
Cannabinoids are a class of terpenoids (terpenes) which act on endogenous cannabinoid receptors located throughout the human body (Kreitzer and Stella 2009). These receptors are present in humans because the human body manufactures a similar class of cannabinoids known as the endocannabinoids (Pertwee et al. 2010). Because THC is the singular factor differentiating hemp and marijuana, alternative cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) are often present in higher ratios in hemp.
Cannabinoid profile stability is an important issue in the cannabis industry. Cannabis producers are frequently forced to remove strains from their production systems due to deterioration of the “mother” plant from which they generate clones. (See FAQ’s – what’s the difference between a variety and a strain?). Our current research program into the genetics of the pathways involved in cannabinoid biosynthesis will allow us to consistently create varieties demonstrating high cannabinoid stability, even when grown across diverse and often stressed environment.