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Israeli Startup Genetically Editing Cannabis Seeds: What Should We Expect?

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CanBreed, an Israeli startup, claims it has acquired a licensing agreement that will allow it to use gene-editing tools to enhance seeds for medical-grade cannabis grows.

The rights to the technology, CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, are held by Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. An Israel-based firm, in Givat Chen, founded by Ido Margalit and Tal Sherman, claims it has been given a nonexclusive intellectual property licensing agreement to use CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology.

How Effective is CRISPR-Cas9 Tech?

Dark Daily reported that researchers at the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) created a three-dimensional view of the molecular structure of a base editor for CRISPR-Cas9. The innovation could result in more accurate gene-editing tools for biomedical research and gene therapy.

However, two studies from 2019 raised concerns about CRISPR base editing.

Chemical and Engineering News reported,

“Other groups have raised concerns about off-target mutations caused when the traditional CRISPR-Cas9 form of gene editing cuts DNA at a location that it wasn’t supposed to touch. The results of the new studies are surprising, however, because scientists have lauded base editors as one of the most precise forms of gene editing yet.”

Massachusetts General Hospital reported similar findings in a study featured in Nature, “Transcriptome-wide off-target RNA editing induced by CRISPR-guided DNA base editors,” published April 17, 2019.

However, even with the potential issues of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tools, Harvard University Chemistry and Chemical Biology Professor David Liu, Ph.D., co-author of the study marking this accuracy-increasing innovation, is confident in the discovery.

“While base editors are now widely used to introduce precise changes in organisms ranging from bacteria to plants to primates, no one has previously observed the three-dimensional molecular structure of a base editor,” he explained in a press release from UC Berkeley. “This collaborative project reveals the beautiful molecular structure of a state-of-the-art highly-active base editor–ABE8e–caught in the act of engaging a target DNA site.”

CanBreed’s Claims on Using CRISPR-Cas9 on Cannabis Seeds

CanBreed claims that it has developed “stable” cannabis seeds that will enable farmers to start cannabis from seeds rather than cloning plants. At this point, the branches of cannabis plants are rooted and used to grow new plants.

Margalit, CEO of CanBreed, explained to The Times of Israel, “The cloning of the branches helps maintain the uniformity of DNA of the weed.” But during the growth cycle, the plant’s genes might become expressed differently than the mother plant’s genes.

The issue here is that as a medical plant, cannabis should be standardized and uniform–and this is not achievable while growing plants from clones. Thus, Margalit believes that the practice has yet to reach cannabis.

CanBreed inbreed the cannabis plant with itself to create stable cannabis seeds, Margalit explained, “But just having stable seeds is not enough. What the grower has to see are the agronomical traits to ensure that they will have the most and highest quality harvest, so they like to see resistance traits in their products, that the plant can be adapted for certain growth environments. None of those traits exist in cannabis.”

The goal is to create seeds with enhanced qualities that make them more resilient against diseases and more acclimated for greenhouse grows.

CanBreed believes it will have stable seeds ready to sell by mid-2021 and plans to introduce its first traits (a powdery mildew-resistant cannabis seed) by the end of 2021.

“We want to be world leaders in using CRISPR technology for cannabis,” Margalit told The Times of Israel. “The idea is to sell stable enhanced cannabis seeds to the entire global market.”

As CRISPR-Cas9 technology becomes more accurate, CanBreed comes closer to changing medical cannabis grows for the better through genetic editing.

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