Uncovering the Secret Stash of Marijuana DNA
Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 08/22/2011 in Medical Marijuana Research
Possibly the most auspicious scientific breakthrough in cannabis history was made Wednesday. The DNA of the cannabis plant has now been fully sequenced, thanks to a small startup run from a nondescript house in the town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. The modest company has made progress that could have so far-reaching a significance, as to lead to a possible treatment for cancer.
Kevin McKernan, a researcher involved in the Human Genome Project for 5 years, had the inspiration to begin the venture less than a year ago. McKernan was leading research into genome sequencing software with Life Technologies Corp., when he happened upon journals showing promising results from marijuana-derived treatments on cancer tumors. Shortly thereafter, he had the epiphany to apply his genome-mapping experience to the forbidden plant. “The only way I knew how to do that was to sequence the genome.” Mc Kernan has a lab in the netherlands, where he is able to freely study marijuana.
So, Medicinal Genomics was born. Their hope is to create a platform for innovations in the area of medicinal marijuana. A quick glance at his website reveals anti-cancer centric intentions, as well as an outwardly pro-medical marijuana inclination. His dedication to the greater good (as opposed to profits) seems genuine, as Medicinal Genomics make all their data available to the public via Amazon’s EC2 cloud service.
McKernan believes his research will yield great dividends in various areas of scientific and medical use. “These pathways can be optimized in the plant or cloned into other hosts for more efficient biologic production. It may be possible through genome directed breeding to attenuate the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while enhancing the medicinal effects.”
Most people are already familiar with the most sought-after chemical in cannabis, THC. The overwhelming majority of selective breeding within marijuana plants is executed with the intention of stimulating the presence of this compound. Unfortunately, by breeding for the psychoactive compound THC, other compounds are bred out of the plant.
One of such compounds is cannabidiol (CBD), and CBD is precisely what piques McKernan’s interest. In preliminary testing with rats, CBD has shown promise in shrinking cancerous tumors. Another appealing facet of CBD is the lack of psychoactive effects, making it effectively useless recreationally.
While it may be disappointing to cannabis lovers, minimal side effects (including those with enjoyable highs) are a boon to therapeutic drugs. So to best convince pharmaceutical companies and the government of promise, prospective drugs will need to have minimum abuse potential. Hopefully, this will not lead to pharmaceutical industry takeover of the entire marijuana market,
McKernan quotes statistics stating, “one in three people are going to get cancer, and one in four are going to die with it or from it. So any compound, as preliminary as this may be, that’s nontoxic and shows hope there, we should be all over.”
One of the drawbacks of the illegal nature of the drug is that any cultivation is purely profit-based. Very few people will risk their freedom and reputation studying a plant with no marketable value beyond illicit recreation. However, with the progress made in genome-processing, no real cultivation needs to be done, while prospective genes can still be isolated.
Certainly, the implications of these efforts could be vast. There are plans to develop his findings into assays which could then be used by anyone from government regulators and lawmakers to pharmaceutical companies. We may soon see the Medicinal Genomics’ Marijuana DNA research lead the way to cancer revolutions and used as evidence for the benefits of cannabis legalization.