If you want to truly understand something you have to go beyond the surface—and cannabis is no different.
In 2011 Kevin McKernan, with his Massachusetts-based company Medicinal Genomics, became the first to sequence the cannabis genome. However McKernan, who previously worked on the Human Genome Project, was unable to do so at the standard set by the HGP. Now in August, nearly eight years later, Medicinal Genomics has sequenced the genome at a standard 28 percent higher than the HGP’s.
This is important because greater accuracy in sequencing means the cannabis genome is both easier to read by researchers and to parse and reconstruct by computers. Genome sequencing is a lot like decoding an ancient language. And understanding how the genome works—what each gene is responsible for, how each gene is related, and how the parts of the genome are coordinated—is critical to progressing the potential of the whole plant.
“Imagine trying to read a book where the chapters are all shuffled. You can make a lot of false narratives,” McKernan said in a statement for Technology Networks. “Take this example: ‘the, theirs, the IRS.’ Three very different meanings. Expand this to paragraphs and chapters and it’s a big deal. We used to have the genome continuous enough to make 2,000-3000 letter words, but now we can have it in full 640,000 chapters.”
McKernan became attracted to cannabis after several close friends were diagnosed with cancer and began following the developments in its medicinal research. He immediately realized completing the sequence of the genome could democratize research around the globe and potentially expedite the development of key cannabis-based therapeutics and set to work.
Before 2011, only 12 cannabis genes were known. Now tens of thousands are available for study creating opportunity for new insights into the plant and its potential applications.