Project Search

sector_ico_Agrifood_trans Agrifood

Functional genomics of terpene variation in medical cannabis

  • Project Leaders: Joerg Bohlmann, Jonathan Page
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $236922
  • Program/Competition: Sector Innovation Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2017
  • Status: Closed

In 2018 the Government of Canada legalized non-medical cannabis production and distribution. Production of medical and non-medical cannabis is one of Canada’s fastest growing agritech industries. One of the major technical issues for the legal cannabis industry is access to well-characterized cannabis varieties with supporting scientific information on their quality traits. Such varieties are critical for standardized cannabis production. Currently much of the industry uses less well-characterized “strains” which often have great variation in the chemical composition of the small molecules that comprise the cannabis resin.

Over 500 different small molecules makeup the cannabis resin. The majority of these small molecules are the terpenes and cannabinoids, which together define the unique pharmacological and sensory properties of different cannabis products. The need of the cannabis industry for well-characterized varieties is similar to the wine industry, where consistency of high-quality products also depends on varieties with predictable metabolite profiles. This project delivered critical new information on the cannabis genome of five different cultivars and improved analytical tools for metabolite profiling to support the development of cannabis varieties. The focus was on the terpenes and genes that produce these molecules, called terpene synthases. The project delivered information on these genes and their variants that explain some of the major differences in terpene profiles of the five different cannabis cultivars. The project produced methods, standards and reference metabolite profiles for cannabis terpenes, which are now available to testing labs (e.g. Anandia) and licensed producers (e.g. Aurora) in the regulated cannabis industry.

The project was in active partnership with the end-user Anandia Laboratories Inc., which was acquired in 2018 by Aurora Cannabis, and served as a conduit to the larger community of end-users in the cannabis agritech industry. In addition to knowledge transfer and distribution through direct collaboration, publications and workshops, Aurora recently recruited an HQP trained in the Bohlmann Lab into the position of Lead Scientist, Genetics.