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Cannabis cultivation: the additional lighting paradox

In the first of this three-part series, Dr Gary Yates, chief scientific officer at PharmaSeeds, discusses the use of lighting for improving cannabis yield. 

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Cannabis cultivation: the additional lighting paradox
Home » News » Production » Cannabis cultivation: the additional lighting paradox

In order to make gains on their yields, some Licensed Producers (LP) introduce supplemental lighting to their cultivation area. The need for this strategy is generally determined by certain variables, including the type of system, manpower available, and the size of the cultivation area.

Not everyone utilises this method, and whether a LP does or not is often a function of choice, experience and the type of genetics used. 

Before we break down the subject further, it is worth briefly explaining the three different types of light ‘additives’ discussed in this article (the source and quality of lights is not discussed here and is better reserved for an article where this is the primary focus).

Read more from Pharmaseeds:

Side Lights

Often vertically positioned, side lights can be added to increase secondary and tertiary (undergrowth) flower yield by increasing the light availability to the non-apical flowers.

Sub-canopy lights

These are lights positioned at the base of the plant to increase light availability to the lower parts of the plant (similar to side lights in terms of the goal they try to achieve)

Supplemental lights

Can be extra lights, e.g. in a Greenhouse to manipulate day length, but can also be included to simply add more photons to the growing area, again usually for the purposes of yield enhancement.

Lighting for yield

Training your plants, and increasing the number of apical buds by topping etc, has been shown to increase the yield capabilities, thus helping with the production of a consistent crop – although it should be noted that in some scenarios, this is not possible due to manpower, spacing issues and other factors. 

Read more from Pharmaseeds: Do we still need master growers now that there’s more research on cannabis?

Many auto-flowering cultivars lose the capacity to automatically flower independent of day length when they are cut. In this scenario, adding illumination to the lower parts of the plant may be beneficial to the overall yield of the plant.

In a 2018 study by Hawley et al, the addition of sub-canopy lights was tested in controlled experiments using RGB (Red Green Blue) LEDs or RB (Red Blue) LEDs. The authors claim that yield is enhanced by up to 19 per cent to 24 per cent as a function of the increased light intensity reaching the mid and lower canopy (normally shaded by the top of the plant), however, the study did not address the quality of the flowers produced on the lower canopy. 

They also flowered at a surprisingly low temperature, although the study did not mention how the upward facing lights can adversely affect the plants. Plants detect the direction of light, and it is not out-with reason that illumination from directly underneath may cause conflicting signalling cues. Most photosynthetic parts of a plant are positively phototropic, therefore when the light sources are in opposite directions, they will try to face the strongest light source (even a single leaf can be pulled in two different directions), but such movement comes at a high energy cost to the plant. 

Despite this potential negative outcome, the authors show that as well as yield, bud-to-leaf ratio is increased with sub-canopy lighting. Furthermore, minor changes in terpenes (but not cannabinoids) take place.

Read more from Pharmaseeds: How much CO2 do your cannabis plants need?

It is worth mentioning that photosynthesis in plants can be limited by the following: Intensity/quality of light, and CO2/Water/Nutrient availability. The saturation limit for photosynthesis is typically around 1800 μmol·m-2·s-1 – however, using only static lights from above means that once the top canopy is maximised for light intensity, the lower parts of the plants receive less intense levels of light due to shading. 

Should you increase the overhead light intensity only, in order to penetrate deeper into the plants, there is a risk of inducing high light stress responses, causing photodamage.

Conclusion

Improving yield in the lower parts of the plant may be achieved by increasing intensity of light to the mid and lower tiers, toward the 1800 μmol·m-2·s-1 saturation limit – but avoid increasing overhead light intensity. 

This can be achieved by using side or supplemental lights, carefully positioned, and utilising upward-facing sub canopy lighting. Upward-facing sub-canopy lighting should be an alternative only if side-facing lights are not viable, although additional research is necessary to clarify if direction is a limiting factor.

As with any adjustments to the growing environment, small, incremental changes are easier to manage, and if possible, always run a trial before introducing on a large scale.

Gary Yates
Chief scientific officer
PharmaSeeds

Production

Biologists identify “hacks” cannabis uses to make cannabinoids

The research provides insight into how trichomes create high quantities of cannabinoids without the plant poisoning itself. 

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Biologists identify “hacks” cannabis uses to make cannabinoids
Home » News » Production » Cannabis cultivation: the additional lighting paradox

Previously, it was unknown how cannabis naturally creates high quantities of cannabinoids and terpenes. Now, new research from biologists at the University of British Colombia has defined the “high efficiency” hacks that the plant’s cells use to do this.

A number of biotechnology companies are now using yeast or cell cultures to create synthetic cannabinoids. The process allows for the mass production of cannabinoids to create a high volume of products in order to keep up with consumer demand.

In a new study, published in the journal Current Biology, plant biologists uncovered the microenvironments in which THC is produced and transported in cannabis trichomes, shedding light on several critical points in the pathway of making THC or CBD within the cell.

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

University of British Columbia botanist who led the research, Dr Sam Livingston, commented” “This really helps us understand how the cells in cannabis trichomes can pump out massive quantities of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and terpenes—compounds that are toxic to the plant cells at high quantities – without poisoning itself.

“This new model can inform synthetic biology approaches for cannabinoid production in yeast, which is used routinely in biotechnology. 

“Without these ‘tricks’ they’ll never get efficient production.”

Read more: Exploring cannabis yield optimisation with PharmaSeeds

Livingston, along with co-author Dr Lacey Samuels, used rapid freezing of cannabis glandular trichomes to immobilise the plant’s cellular structures and the metabolites in situ. 

This enabled them to investigate cannabis glandular trichomes using electron microscopes that revealed cell structure at the nano level, showing that the metabolically active cells in cannabis form a “supercell” that acts as a tiny metabolic biofactory.

Until now, synthetic biology approaches have focused on optimising the enzymes responsible for making THC and CBD – like building a factory with the most efficient machinery to make as much product as possible. However, these approaches haven’t developed an efficient way to move intermediate substances from one enzyme to another, or from inside the cell to the outside of the cell where final products can be collected. 

This research helps to define the subcellular “shipping routes” that cannabis uses to create an efficient pipeline from raw materials to end products without accumulating toxins or waste products.

Dr Samuels stated: “For more than 40 years, everything that we thought about cannabis cells was inaccurate because it was based on dated electron microscopy.”

“This work defines how cannabis cells make their product. It’s a paradigm shift after many years, producing a new view of cannabinoid production. This work has been challenging, partly the result of legal prohibition and also due to the fact that no protocol for the genetic transformation of cannabis has been published.”

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New partnership to commercialise synthetic THCV and rare cannabinoids

Open Book Extracts has partnered with developers of a proprietary chemical synthesis platform that produces ultra-pure, high quality, sustainable cannabinoids, Nalu Bio.

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New partnership to commercialise synthetic THCV and rare cannabinoids

Open Book Extracts (OBX) has entered into a research, development and commercialisation partnership with Nalu Bio.

The partnership will allow Nalu Bio to advance its THCV production method from research and development to commercial-scale manufacturing using its proprietary and scalable synthesis platform. 

With a 76,000 sf. NSF- and ISO 9001-certified research and production facility near Durham, North Carolina, OBX and Nalu Bio plan to begin initial production of THCV in September 2022 with market-ready compounds available before the end of the year.

Read more: Open Book Extracts joins EIHA to gain novel food status in Europe

CTO of Nalu Bio, Matthew Roberts, commented: “Our THCV is produced in highly scalable reactors at factory-scale, using low-cost, safe and effective starting materials. Nalu Bio and OBX are both innovators in their respective fields, and this partnership is mutually beneficial for two industry leaders.

“Nalu Bio prides itself on partnering excellence, and we’re excited to deliver high-quality, safe, and low-cost cannabinoid ingredients and products to the market.”

Read more: Collaboration to conduct research to support the cannabis industry

Nalu Bio’s vision for the synthesis and cost-effective mass production of cannabinoids mimics the history of aspirin – the therapeutic value of aspirin for pain relief was discovered, and while initially derived from willow bark, it is now mass produced at factory-scale with higher quality and dosage consistency, which has benefited billions of consumers worldwide as it has become the most commonly used drug in the world. 

THCV will be the first cannabinoid available at commercial scale through this partnership, allowing OBX and Nalu Bio to offer the highest quality, most consistent dosage of THCV.

Both OBX and Nalu Bio envision a range of additional cannabinoids to be released through this partnership,including a broad range of cannabinoids from hemp and natural sources, such as CBD, CBN, CBC, CBG, CBT, CBDa, CBGa, CBDV, and THCV.

OBX CEO, Dave Neundorfer, commented: “I am excited about the value Nalu Bio and OBX will bring to the cannabinoid therapeutics market. This partnership is well-positioned to meet the needs of the growing synthetic cannabinoid market and deliver potentially life-changing products to consumers worldwide.”

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Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel

Mother plants have arrived in Greece, marking the beginning of production for Tikun Europe.

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Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel
Home » News » Production » Cannabis cultivation: the additional lighting paradox

Tikun Europe has welcomed the first mother plants from Israel and will now begin cultivation in the company’s facility at Korinthos, Greece. 

Transportation of the plants was carried out by Skyserv Ground Handling Services. The shipment of the plants was made in specially designed containers under controlled environment ensuring the best possible conditions throughout the transportation from Israel to their final destination. 

Cultivation will take place in Tikun Europe’s vertically integrated greenhouse unit, with an area of 21,000 m 2 and it anticipates an annual production capacity of 10 tonnes of dry flower.

Read more: Tikun receives licence to begin operations in Greek facility

CEO of Tikun Europe, Nikos Beis, said: “We welcome the first mother plants to our facilities in Greece. Their arrival marks the beginning of production at the factory in Korinthos, which takes us one step closer to the realisation of our commitment. 

“Our factory, being the largest pharmaceutical facility in its industry in Europe, is committed to creating innovative, high-quality medical cannabis products. 

“A new era is beginning for our country with the operation of our Tikun Europe facility, paving the way for Greece to become one of the main players in the field of production and export of medical cannabis products.”

Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel

The plants will be used for propagation under strict protocols that will ensure the preservation of the unique characteristics of the mother plants to the future generations. The facility is expected to reach its full capacity levels gradually in the near future, to deliver a wide variety of finished medical cannabis dosage forms.

The company’s greenhouse and production units are designed to comply with the GACP/EU-GMP standards, and it holds all the necessary licenses and certifications in order for its operation.

COO and vice president of the board of Tikun Europe, Dimitris Giannopoulos, stated: “After completing the construction of our production facility in Korinthos, today signifies another important milestone, that brings us one step closer to the beginning of cultivation of medical cannabis plants in the country. 

“The main challenge and opportunity now become the development and production of a complete portfolio of high quality finished medical cannabis products to meet the needs of patients in Greece and in Europe”.

Commercial director of Skyserv Ground Handling Services, Martha Georgila, stated: “We are very happy that Tikun Europe trusted Skyserv to implement the first transport of mother plants in Greece. 

“Following all transportation protocols for that type of merchandises, along with the specific storage conditions that were required during their stay at the airport area, we managed to keep them intact until their departure to the company’s factory in Korinthos.”

Greece welcomes first medical cannabis plants from Israel

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