An important piece of the heritable trait research New West Genetics is investigating includes the chemical profiles of the species. C. sativa is a chemically complex plant, containing many compounds, (over 400! (Atakan, 2012)). New West Genetics is focusing first on cannabinoids and terpenes.
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. New West’s goal is to breed the lowest possible THC content and has bred a zero THC variety.
Cannabinoid profile stability is an important issue in the hemp industry. Both hemp and high THC C. sativa 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 R&D on the genetics of the pathways involved in cannabinoid biosynthesis allows us to consistently create varieties demonstrating high cannabinoid stability, even when grown across diverse and often stressed environments. In fact, in order to qualify for AOSCA certification, the Colorado Department of Agriculture tested our variety across regions of CO, and validated that NWG-ELITES’s® THC stayed stable in each locale.
Breeding for stable cannabinoids that can be large-scale harvestable is another key element of our R&D program. The current production method for a bushy style plant, whether clonal or feminized seed, involves much hands-on treatment. Rooting the clones, encouraging seed germination, repotting, or hand harvesting are common practices. Below is a diagram of New West Genetics’ basic breeding strategy– we induce novel variation repeatedly over generations to create plants with both agronomic traits necessary to be uniform in the field, as well as plants with desired cannabinoid profiles.
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 pathogen and photooxidative stresses (Tholl, 2006). Terpenes from hops (Humulus lupulus, the closest relative to C. sativa), such as myrcene and humulene, serve as major aromatic and flavor compounds in beer. C. sativa 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.