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Researchers identify the high-efficiency hacks cannabis cells use to make cannabinoids

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For the first time, plant biologists have defined the highly efficient “hacks” cannabis cells use to make cannabinoids (THC/CBD). While many biotechnology companies are currently trying to convert THC/CBD outside the plant into yeast or cell cultures, it is largely unknown how the plant does this naturally.

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

“This new model may inform synthetic biological approaches to the production of cannabinoids in yeast, which are routinely used in biotechnology. Without these ‘tricks’ they will never achieve efficient production.”

For centuries, people have cultivated cannabis for its pharmacological properties that result from consuming its specialized metabolites, primarily CBD and terpenoids. Today, production within the $20 billion global cannabis market is largely dependent on the biological activity of small clusters of cells called glandular trichomes, which are found primarily on the flowers of the plant.

The study, published today in Current Biologyreveals the microenvironments in which THC is produced and transported in cannabis trichomes, and sheds light on several critical points in the process of making THC or CBD in the cell.

dr. Livingston and co-author Dr. Lacey Samuels used rapid freezing of cannabis glands to immobilize the plant’s cell structures and metabolites in situ. This allowed them to examine the trichomes of cannabis glands using electron microscopes that revealed the cell structure at the nano level, showing that the metabolically active cells in cannabis form a “supercell” that acts as a small metabolic biofactory.

Until now, synthetic biology approaches have focused on optimizing the enzymes responsible for making THC/CBD, such as building a factory with the most efficient machines to make as much product as possible. However, these approaches have not developed an efficient way to move intermediate substances from one enzyme to another, or from within the cell to the outside of the cell where end products can be collected. This research helps define the subcellular “transportation routes” cannabis uses to create an efficient pipeline from raw materials to finished products without the build-up of toxins or waste products.

“For over 40 years, everything we thought about cannabis cells was inaccurate because it was based on outdated electron microscopy,” says Dr. Samuels, a plant cell biologist at UBC. “This work defines how cannabis cells make their product. It is a paradigm shift after many years, opening up a new perspective on the production of cannabinoids. This work has been challenging, partly as a result of legal prohibition and also due to the fact that there are no protocol for the genetic transformation of cannabis has been published.”


The frostier the flower, the more potent the cannabis


More information:
Samuel J. Livingston et al, A polarized supercell produces specialized metabolites in cannabis trichomes, Current Biology (2022). DOI: 10.116/j.cub.2022.07.014

Provided by the University of British Columbia


Quote: Researchers identify the highly efficient hacks that cannabis cells use to make cannabinoids (2022, August 2), retrieved August 2, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-high-efficiency-hacks-cannabis-cells -cannabinoids .html

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