Cannabis “genome map” shows the evolution of marijuana

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Research shows how THC came to be

In a question akin to “why do we exist,” scientists recently embarked on a mission to determine why tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) exists. They have created a cannabis genome map that shows how cannabis has evolved and split into two primary strains – marijuana and hemp. Apparently, according to the researchers, THC came about due to a virus-like element called a retroelement.

The study was co-authored by Honoratus Van Bakel, Ph.D. He explains that genomes in plants and animals contain a significant amount of retroelements, DNA segments that have properties similar to those of viruses. These properties give the segments the ability to copy themselves and find new locations in the genome.

This cycle is what the researchers believe to have occurred with certain cannabis genes, such as CBDAS, THCAS and CBCAS. The first two encode CBD and THC, respectively, while the third encodes cannabinoids. The report’s other co-author, Timothy Hughes, Ph.D., adds, “We speculate that these sequences led to duplication of the THCAS and CBDAS encoding genes and, or, promoted subsequent rearrangements that make the surrounding DNA very different.”

The fact that THC is found in marijuana – and not in hemp – goes back to the cannabinoid enzymes. Van Bakel adds, “It’s just that the different varieties were selected and bred for specific purposes. Each variety [hemp and marijuana] diverged from the ancestor and the analysis of a much larger number of different varieties is needed to provide insights into which strain properties arose first.”