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Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

In this article, Dr Gary Yates, chief scientific officer at PharmaSeeds, discusses the essential elements central to producing a successful crop.



Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds
Home » News » Production » Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

In order to maximise the chances of survival, plants have developed strategies that allow them to suppress growth when faced with stress in their environment. 

This trade-off has evolved over millions of years, enabling plants to redirect their energy and genetic resources to optimise their fitness. As the main goal of all living organisms is securing their genetic makeup in the next generation – in other words, long-term survival of the species – this can often be in direct conflict with what humans desire from their plants, i.e. to maximise yields/enhance crop production. 

For this article, it is helpful to think of only three major transcriptional rearrangements the plant can undertake which determine the focus of the plants resources:

1) Growth.

2) Stress Response.

3) Seed development (last phase of life usually).

It’s often a trade-off – when a plant is in full growth mode, exposure to stress can tilt the balance, dramatically reducing growth to deal with that stress.

Read more from PharmaSeeds:

An example of this is found in the balance between optimal growth and defence against pathogens. Halting growth can result in poor quality, low-yielding harvests, and this is especially true if the plant assigns too many resources into responding to the pathogen (Fig 1). Once the plant becomes locked into these stress response pathways, it reaches a point where its priority is to produce seed, and so will switch from full stress response to full seed development, leaving growth and yield well behind.

Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

Figure 1. High sensitivity to stress. If the plant spends too many resources responding to stress, development will typically be impaired, and growth stunted. In such an instance, the plant can fully resist a pathogenic threat, but at the expense of yield volume.

If a plant funnels its resources into growth and ‘ignores’ the need to respond to stress, the plant may be rendered defenceless, leaving disease free to take over, and resulting in symptoms (Fig 2). 

However, this is highly dependant upon the capabilities of the pathogen – if it does not easily spread throughout the plant, it can actually be advantageous for the plant to ignore these stress signals and keep prioritising growth. Much like in humans with cold symptoms, the immune response is more to blame for the symptoms than the pathogen’s actions. In such cases, ‘ignoring’ the stress-signalling cues can be beneficial.

Read more from PharmaSeeds: Improving cannabis yield 

Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

Figure 2. No response to stress. If a plant does not respond to stress, it can devastate the entire plant. In some cases, it can help the plant to keep energy reserves focused on growth, and potentially allow the plant to reach maturity before it gets consumed by the elicitor of the stress. Pathogens can set traps for plants which fool them into thinking they are not under attack, which in turn allows the pathogen to spread within the plant without the need to overcome the plant’s immune system.

When a plant is highly susceptible to a pathogen, it can often devastate the plant entirely by killing it, but in other examples it simply makes the plant small and sickly, resulting in retarded growth. The level of susceptibility can correlate to growth rate, and a common middle ground is often preferred. In the agricultural world, some breeding companies have a four part view on this:

Yield, Yield, Yield, Resistance.

This strange ratio is indicative of the need to ensure a good harvest over hardened resistance, which can often result in yield reduction, and gives a clear measurement of what breeders are targeting. Most likely, keeping a balance is good for the plant, since exposure to a little stress as a seedling can lead to activation of the stress response pathways. However, as the plant is so young, it cannot switch from that to seed development. The typical outcome is a normal level of growth, but a heightened readiness for stress. (Fig 3).

Read more from PharmaSeeds: Germplasm selection – from seed culture to tissue culture

Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

Figure 3. Yield vs stress resistance. If a plant is exposed to a stress – but does not put all its resources into dealing with the stress – and can maintain a good level of growth, it is possible to produce an expected level of yield whilst showing little signs of the stress. This is the sweet spot for most commercial agricultural breeders, where we see no or little deviation from the normal growth levels, but the plant offers a good level of protection from stress.

Of course, the genetic starting point is key to all of the above. Understanding the environment, how the plants respond to stress, and what they offer in terms of self-protection, are central to producing a successful crop. In instances where quality product is priority over yield (for example, in the medical cannabis flower market), it is vital to ensure plants are stress-free and without unacceptable levels of pathogens in the finished product. 

This is paramount to the way we work at PharmaSeeds, where understanding the growing environment, the genetic capabilities of the cultivars, and matching this with the physiology and desired finished product are key considerations before making suggestions on cultivars.

Gary Yates
Chief scientific officer


New research could help cultivators control THC and CBD levels in crops

A team of researchers has used firefly genes to understand cannabis biology.



New research could help cultivators control THC and CBD levels in crops
Home » News » Production » Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

A better understanding of how cannabis produces THC means scientists could selectively knock out the enzyme that synthesises THC using genome editing techniques such as CRISPR. This would produce plants with lower levels of, or no levels of, THC.

With strict regulations surrounding the levels of CBD and THC in cultivated cannabis, controlling these levels is vital to prevent destruction of crops and lost licences, for example. 

Cannabinoids are produced by trichomes, the small, spikey and sticky protrusions on the surface of cannabis flowers, however, scientists know very little about how cannabinoid biosynthesis is controlled.

To discover the underlying molecular mechanisms behind trichrome development and cannabinoid synthesis, Yi Ma, research assistant professor, and Gerry Berkowitz, professor in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources received funding through the National Research Initiative from the US Department of Agriculture.

The research has been published in the journal Plants.

Read more: Cannabis cultivation – the artificial lighting minefield

Cannabinoid biosynthesis

Berkowitz and Ma, and former graduate students Samuel Haiden and Peter Apicella, have discovered transcription factors responsible for trichome initiation and cannabinoid biosynthesis. 

Transcription factors are molecules that determine if a piece of an organism’s DNA will be transcribed into RNA, and thus expressed. In this case, the transcription factors cause epidermal cells on the flowers to morph into trichomes. 

With this new grant, the researchers will continue to explore how these transcription factors play a role in trichome development during flower maturation.

Berkowitz and Ma will clone the promoters – the part of DNA that transcription factors bind to – of interest, and will then put the promoters into the cells of a model plant along with a copy of the gene that makes fireflies light up, known as firefly luciferase; the luciferase is fused to the cannabis promoter so if the promoter is activated by a signal, the luciferase reporter will generate light. 

Berkowitz commented: “It’s a nifty way to evaluate signals that orchestrate cannabinoid synthesis and trichome development.”

The researchers will load the cloned promoters and luciferase into a plasmid. Plasmids are circular DNA molecules that can replicate independently of the chromosomes. This allows the scientists to express the genes of interest even though they aren’t part of the plant’s genomic DNA. They will deliver these plasmids into the plant leaves or protoplasts, plant cells without the cell wall.

When the promoter controlling luciferase expression comes into contact with the transcription factors responsible for trichome development (or triggered by other signals such as plant hormones), the luciferase ‘reporter’ will produce light. 

Ma and Berkowitz will use an instrument called a luminometer, which measures how much light comes from the sample. This will tell the researchers if the promoter regions they are looking at are controlled by transcription factors responsible for increasing trichome development or modulating genes that code for cannabinoid biosynthetic enzymes. They can also learn if the promoters respond to hormonal signals.

In prior work underlying the rationale for this experimental approach, Ma and Berkowitz along with graduate student Peter Apicella found that the enzyme that makes THC in cannabis trichomes may not be the critical limiting step regulating THC production, but rather the generation of the precursor for THC (and CBD) production and the transporter-facilitated shuttling of the precursor to the extracellular bulb might be key determinants in developing cannabis strains with high THC or CBD.

Most cannabis farmers grow hemp, a variety of cannabis with naturally lower THC levels than marijuana. Currently, most hemp varieties that have high CBD levels also contain unacceptably high levels of THC. This is likely because the hemp plants still make the enzyme that produces THC. If the plant contains over 0.3% THC, it is considered federally illegal and, in many cases, must be destroyed. 

The researchers said: “We envision that the fundamental knowledge obtained can be translated into novel genetic tools and strategies to improve the cannabinoid profile, aid hemp farmers with the common problem of overproducing THC, and benefit human health.”

This knowledge could lead to the production of cannabis plants that produce more of a desired cannabinoid, making it more valuable and profitable.

As well as sharing these findings with cannabis scientists, industry, and growers, the researchers will incorporate this new knowledge into UConn courses on cannabis horticulture.

This grant will also support the training of undergraduates interested in cannabis research, providing them with the skills to enter the workforce.

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Planning application submitted for Isle of Man cannabis facility

The facility will include a science and innovation centre.



Planning application submitted for Isle of Man cannabis facility
SIRC CGI Isle of Man Eye Level (Peel NRE)
Home » News » Production » Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

Plans to kickstart the medical cannabis industry on the Isle of Man have progressed with the submission of a formal planning application for a cultivation facility on the island.

Earlier this year, Peel NRE proposed to establish a multi-million-pound science innovation and research centre (SIRC), sustainable energy park and medical cannabis facility on the Isle of Man.

The regeneration and clean energy specialist has now applied for planning consent for its proposals for the 72-acre site in between the A6 and A5 on New Castletown Road. 

The plan, which represents an investment of over £150m from Peel NRE, would create around 250 jobs across a range of skills from botany and technology to security and exports. More than 178,000 sqft of cannabis cultivation space will be created with around 102,000 sqft for research and development.

Read more: Isle of Man opens for business to the medical cannabis industry

Managing director of Peel NRE, part of Peel L&P, Myles Kitcher, said: “This is a game-changing opportunity for the Isle of Man to get ahead in a new and exciting industry that will bring many benefits to the Island and its people and we also hope that it will encourage more renewable projects in the area.

“As expected, our proposals have attracted a lot of attention and, we are pleased to say, significant support from the community during the extensive public consultation. This includes positivity around the emerging industry on the Island, the proposed campus-style development and new educational and career opportunities.

“We will continue to work with the community over the coming weeks and months as the project progresses and will be holding an industry event later in the year for businesses interested in finding out more about available opportunities.”

Read more: Proposal for medical cannabis facility put forward on Isle of Man

The proposals (22/00678/B) follow a change in the legislation of cannabis production and exportation on the island. The Isle of Man Government announced in June last year that opening the island up could make it “a world-leading exporter” of cannabis, and establish it as a global destination for science and technological excellence that will contribute to cutting-edge research into cannabinoids for pharmaceutical uses.

It will also set a gold standard for the burgeoning cannabis industry across the world and unlock partnerships in the public and private sectors.

Additionally, the scheme will feature a solar farm to power the site which would be the Island’s only grid-scale renewable project, contributing to the Isle of Man Government’s ambitions on climate change.

SIRC Isle of Man CGI – A5 Looking East (Peel NRE)

Peel NRE launched a public consultation to help shape the plans before the application was submitted to the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture later this year, and has stated that it has had positive feedback from the Isle of Man community. 

Isle of Man Minister for Treasury, Dr Alex Allinson MHK, said: “The development of the Island’s medicinal cannabis sector is a key part of the Government’s ambitions to diversify the economy as well as creating a vibrant new sector to attract more investment and skills to the Isle of Man. 

“We are looking to create a world-class infrastructure and continue to welcome interest in developing this sector further.”

Speaking to Cannabis Wealth at the time of the proposal’s announcement, Laurence Skelly, President of Tynwald and Minister for Enterprise, commented: “Diversifying the economy is a significant part of the Isle of Man Government’s Island Plan and the development of Medicinal Cannabis for export is one of the key sectors to bring forward this diversification.

“The Island’s Medicinal Cannabis export proposition is to develop high-quality products and attract new investment through utilising the Island’s stellar reputation as a well-regulated jurisdiction.”

Planning application submitted for Isle of Man cannabis facility

SIRC CGI Isle of Man Aerial view (Peel NRE)

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MoU to establish medical cannabis production facility

The site will be based in Madrid, Spain.



MoU to establish medical cannabis production facility
Home » News » Production » Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

Kanabo has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)  for an indoor medical cannabis cultivation project in Spain.

The facility will enable 4,000kg per annum indoor cultivation and processing of cannabis. The facility, which is to be established in Madrid, Spain, will focus exclusively on medical cannabis.

Kanabo Group has formed an Israeli subsidiary company, Kanabo Agritec Ltd. (Agritec), which Kanabo Research Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kanabo Group, holds a 40 per cent shareholding, together with certain additional control rights over the strategic direction of the subsidiary.

Kanabo Agritec will enter into agreements with customers to offer consulting advice and support on cultivation, processing and production of medical cannabis products to organisations and entrepreneurs entering or already active in the cannabis market.

Read more: Kanabo Group extends GP Service contract with major UK retailer

CEO of Kanabo Group, Avihu Tamir, commented: “We are truly excited by today’s announcement. Agritec provides Kanabo Group plc an opportunity to realise the value of our extensive, existing intellectual capital in medical Cannabis cultivation and production, providing near-term consulting revenues.  

“Secondly, it provides us a way to diversify, secure and quality control our supply of medical-grade Cannabis that will always meet our exacting standards, avoiding any wasted margin from product that does not meet the grade.  

“In short, the new venture provides all the benefits and value of owning the cultivation supply chain, without the Capex and Opex requirement of building a cultivation operation ourselves.  Furthermore, Kanabo consumers will be guaranteed a consistent, highest quality supply of medical Cannabis products, at all times.”

Read more: Kanabo launches online CBD store for UK customers

CEO of Agritec, Ophir Shimshi, commented: “We are excited to combine Agritec’s team experience with Kanabo’s extensive R&D knowledge and expertise, to bring this powerful, full-service consultancy offering to market.  

“Agritec’s clients will benefit from Kanabo’s immensely valuable, tried, tested and proven playbook.  

“Our range of consulting services deliver every strategic and operational consideration required by enterprises and entrepreneurs who wish to take advantage of the immense growth opportunities this market has to offer.”

Kanabo has stated that Agritec provides the company with complementary near-term revenue opportunities and will offer Kanabo improved security of cannabis supply through a diverse range of suppliers, who will all adopt Kanabo’s high-quality manufacturing standards without Kanabo having to fund or become directly involved in cannabis cultivation.

Agritec customers will benefit from Kanabo’s services including: procurement, design and build of commercial scale, medical cannabis cultivation facilities; high-quality genetics and standard operating procedures for optimal medical cannabis cultivation; post-harvest services including offtake agreements with Kanabo Group; design and draft reporting and documentation filing services with the local authorities; and, local training and ongoing consulting services.

As per the terms of the MoU, Agritec may elect to receive up to 20 per cent ownership of the project based on the achievement of agreed milestones.

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