Scientists at UConn used firefly genes to make cannabis glow

A group of researchers at the University of Connecticut recently conducted an experiment wherein they used firefly DNA to light up cannabis cells for study.

The purpose of the study — which was funded by the US Department of Agriculture — was to help scientists gain a better understanding of cannabinoid biosynthesis.

Cannabinoids are complex compounds formed by trichomes, small, spiky protrusions on the plant’s flower, that are capable of interacting with the human body’s endocannabinoid system.

You’ve surely heard of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.

In order to be able to “see” the way trichomes actually develop various cannabinoids, the researchers cloned a part of the plant’s DNA and then combined it with one of the genes responsible for making fireflies glow, and put both in a receptor plant.

Unfortunately, scientists know very little about how cannabinoids are formed. This causes big problems for farmers as, for example, there are legal limits on the amount of THC a hemp plant contains before it’s considered a class one controlled substance by the US government.

Per a press release from UConn:

If the plant contains over 0.3% THC, it is considered federally illegal and, in many cases, must be destroyed. A better understanding of how the plant produces THC means scientists could selectively knock out the enzyme that synthesizes THC using genome editing techniques such as CRISPR. This would produce plants with lower levels of or no THC.

It’s also possible this research could help medicinal cannabis growers produce more selective strains using better techniques. The current status quo is based on selective horticulture and post-harvest terpine profiling.

In the future, growers could develop seeds specific to an individual user’s DNA markers — but we’re going to need a fundamental understanding of cannabinoid biosynthesis before we cross over into that paradise.

You can read more about the research here on the University of Connecticut’s news site.


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