The imperfect resource in the cannabis plant
Cannabinoids are not specific to the cannabis plant. Recent scientific advances and discoveries show that cannabis is not the only plant that produces cannabinoids and cannabinoid-like compounds. For now, over eight plants have been identified to produce varying concentrations of cannabinoids and cannabinoid-like compounds. These compounds can interact with cannabinoid receptors to provide several therapeutic benefits. Cannabinoids like CBD have been isolated from orange peels, while sunflowers possess CBG-like compounds amorfrutins.
Cannabinoids are specialized forms of terpenes that interact with the endocannabinoid system. Over 120 cannabinoids have been identified successfully in the cannabis plant, and the number is still growing. Out of this vast number of cannabinoids identified in Cannabis sativa plant, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the only compound yet to be identified in other plants.
THC is produced in minute quantities in specialized structures (trichomes) on the Cannabis sativa flower. Although the THC concentration may vary from one cultivar to the other, THC is generally produced in sizeable amounts in the trichomes, making the cannabis plant an imperfect THC factory or resource.
The recent interest in cannabis medicinal and recreational use has created a greater demand for THC and other medically important cannabinoids. The cultivation of THC-dominant cultivars is on the rise. The THC concentration has increased in the last decade thanks to selective breeding, indoor cultivation, and the production of seedless cannabis plants. Research shows that THC potency in dried cannabis flowers has increased from an average of 3% in the 1980s to around 15% – 30% recorded today, depending on the cultivar. This is also the same for the concentration of CBD in hemp.
The imperfect concentration of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids in the plant is creating new rooms for more industrial-friendly production of these compounds via cannabis bioengineering. These are processes aimed at optimizing the general concentration of cannabinoids while taking away the bottleneck linked to cannabis cultivation.
While it is almost impossible to have a Cannabis sativa cultivar that has it all, the latest technology and breeding programs in the cannabis industry show the possibilities of introducing efficient methods of achieving this without stress. Also, note that the cannabis medicinal field is no longer limited to CBD and THC as the benefits of rare cannabinoids are springing up. In some cases, these cannabinoids have higher activity t than CBD and THC, i.e. can trigger a better response at a lower dose.
How is bioengineering changing the cannabis industry?
As the FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) is raising an eyebrow on synthetic cannabinoids, there is an increased need for adopting biosynthesized cannabinoids. Biosynthesized cannabinoids are cannabinoids synthesized from any living things. They are products of cannabis bioengineering.
Cannabis bioengineering involves the use of deliberate genetic modifications (or manipulations) to scale up the production process of the cannabis plant and its constituents. This includes alkaloids, terpenes, flavonoids, cannabinoids, and essential oils. Cannabis bioengineering aims to optimize the concentration of active compounds in the plant while making cultivation easier. While there are quite a few bioengineered processes in cannabis cultivation and the cannabis industry, this article will focus on the two most recent ones discussed below.
Microbe (biosynthesized) synthesized cannabinoids
Microorganisms like filamentous fungi, yeast and bacteria, have been widely utilized as bio-factories. They have been used in the biological synthesis of medically important compounds like antibiotics, hormones and other secondary metabolites. The process involves a complicated series of controlled reactions that leads to the natural production of these important compounds by microorganisms. Microorganisms can be manipulated to synthesize and excrete out cannabinoids starting from sugars or other carbohydrates. This was successfully done by biosynthesizing CBD and THC by some bacteria, fungi, and algae.
The process involves cleaving the gene responsible for biosynthesizing CBGa (cannabigerolic acid) and inserting it into the bacterial, yeast, or fungal cell. Other enzymes then convert this CBGa to synthesize THCa, CBDa, or CBCa. After several hours of fermentation, the microorganism is allowed to excrete these cannabinoids. This method requires no cultivation of the cannabis plant.
Bacterial strains like Zymomonas cannabinoidis®, a new strain of Zymomonas mobilis specially created for synthesizing cannabinoids, can synthesize more than 180 cannabinoids from glucose fermentation. The bacteria can continuously add cannabinoids to the fermentation medium for 900 hours without interruption. The calculated yield for this process is up to 4.5kg of cannabinoid per gram of bacterium used.
The biosynthesis of cannabinoids, although not directly linked to the cannabis plant, will require a great deal of monitoring to observe the quality of raw materials and products. This is where our Cannavigia manufacturing module comes into the picture.
Modification of chemical synthesis within the cannabis plant
By altering the cells of the cannabis or hemp plant, farmers can manipulate the cannabis plant into producing any cannabinoid of their choice. This process makes cannabinoids available in every part of the cannabis plant, not just the trichomes. Remember that cannabinoids like THC are concentrated in the trichomes in limited concentrations. This will improve overall production and optimize the plant for better performance as an industrial source.
Modifying chemical synthesis within the cannabis plant will also allow the mass production of rare/minor cannabinoids. This will ultimately lead to the development of new cultivars that can synthesize these cannabinoids in marketable quantities for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Bioengineered vs. cultivation practices
Bioengineered and conventional cannabis cultivation practices have pros and cons that make each process unique. While the world is gunning for a more effective cannabinoid synthesizing process, some are quite skeptical about the safety of biosynthesized cannabinoids. Quite a few users believe bioengineered cannabinoids are not far from synthetic cannabinoids.
Biosynthesized cannabinoids are not different from cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant. They only differ in their organism of origin (in this case, microorganisms). They are produced from the same enzymes and undergo the same interaction with receptors. Unlike synthetic or semi-synthetic cannabinoids that originate from synthetic compounds, biosynthesized cannabinoids are made in a controlled environment that is different from cultivating the cannabis plant.
The possibilities of encountering impurities or contaminants are reduced as biosynthesized cannabinoids mostly focus on the production of isolated compounds. This may remove the unique terpene-cannabinoids relationship in the cannabis plant while compensating for it with a high cannabinoid yield.
Pros and cons of biosynthesized Cannabinoids and bioengineered processes
Mass production of rare or minor cannabinoids
The concentration of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant is quite limited. On average, it is estimated that 1g of cannabis flower can produce 100mg – 200mg CBD. This is determined by the cultivar used.
The challenge linked with the limited concentration of plant cannabinoids can be settled with biosynthesized cannabinoids. The microorganisms can be manipulated to produce high concentrations of rare cannabinoids like THCV, CBDV, THCH, CBDH, THCP, THCjd, and many more.
Fast and easy production of cannabinoids
Contrary to what is obtainable when growing the cannabis plant, manufacturers can harvest a high concentration of cannabinoids after a few days of fermentation. This is contrary to the 120-day cycle expressed by most plants. Biosynthesized cannabinoids don’t require cannabis cultivation making it a more efficient process.
Limited to cannabis isolates
While biosynthesized cannabinoids may be perfect for cannabis isolates, it takes away the unique terpene-cannabinoid relationship in the cannabis plant. Note that this relationship is important for the so called “entourage effect” and triggers a lot of receptors at the same time. People who want to experience the power of full-spectrum and broad-spectrum products may have to settle for cannabis plant derived products.
Pros and cons of cannabis cultivation
While the majority of cannabis education and use has focused on cannabinoids and their sister molecules like terpenes, flavonoids, alkaloids, and essential oils, it is pertinent to note that industrial use of cannabis is not limited to this alone. Research shows that every part of the cannabis plant can be put to good use. The plant and its products have been put to over 100 uses. Resorting to bioengineered cannabinoid production can only solve one problem: synthesizing cannabinoids. Cannabis is a good source of biofuel, fibre, bioplastic, and many other industrial products. Some of the pros and cons of cannabis cultivation are discussed below.
Cannabis cultivation can contribute to environmental health
The cannabis plant can absorb and store heavy metals, fuels in its roots and stems. This can reverse land pollution with heavy metals and clean the environment. Cannabis cultivation can contribute to environmental health via rhizofiltration, phytoextraction, phytovolatilization, and phytodegradation. In such cases cannabis parts cannot be used for human consumption.
Greater use case
As stated earlier, cannabis and its products can be put to over 100 different uses. Cannabis cultivation can provide raw materials to several industries, thus increasing its value.
Which is better; cannabis bioengineering or cannabis cultivation?
The sole purpose of cannabis bioengineering is to boost cannabis cultivation and cannabinoid concentration. The bioengineered processes come in handy in taking away the bottlenecks associated with cannabis cultivation. For now, cannabis bioengineered processes aim to produce industrial quantities of cannabinoids. In contrast, cannabis cultivation seeks to identify and propagate the use of cannabis cultivars that offer an excellent combination of compounds.
Each process is unique in its application and should be considered based on its area of strength. You can settle for biosynthesized processes if you are more interested in the isolate of rare cannabinoids. Cannabis cultivation is, however, excellent for preserving the natural relationship between compounds in the plant. Cannabis cultivation also contributes to environmental health while promoting other possible use of the cannabis plant.
Cannavigia and cannabis bioengineering
Our manufacturing module at Cannavigia can provide many benefits that will assist cannabis cultivators and manufacturers at every step of their journey. It offers full transparency and traceability over all raw materials, equipment, and processes, every parameter used in cannabis production.
The manufacturing module pays special attention to ensure that intermediate and final products are manufactured according to specification. Every step of cannabis production can be digitally documented. This will help to keep your products within legal requirements while providing a deeper insight into the work process.
Some roles of our manufacturing modules include but are not limited to the following:
- Full digital visibility of the manufacturing process
- Management of manufacturing equipment, maintenance and cleaning
- Logging of byproducts such as bacteria or enzymes for later usage
- Management of stock and storage conditions
- Traceability of all materials through a guided goods in process
- Standardization of work procedures and quick access to relevant production SOPs
- Specification management
- Release of processes according to specifications
- Monitoring of environmental data of rooms through IoT Sensors
- Takes care of the administrative workload
Thanks to these functionalities, you can ensure quality, streamline your production, and have full data transparency.
Check out our manufacturing module for more information on how we can scale your cannabis production without compromising quality.