Scientists are building marijuana biofactories to increase production

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Research into how to “brew” large amounts of cannabis in vats could lead to massive production of key marijuana ingredients

As the marijuana industry continues to expand across the US, and the globe, scientists are taking a novel approach to speed up the availability of key components of cannabis. They are exploring the possibility of producing the key components in the plant to “brew” only the required ingredients, which could lead to extensive production of things like cannabis oils, rubs and edibles.

The two ingredients most in demand now are CBD and THC. Currently, they are both sourced by growing the marijuana plant in greenhouses and subsequently extracting and processing them. It’s a long, tedious and expensive process that scientists hope can be improved.

Today, there are a growing number of products that only need CBD to be produced. Edibles now account for about 40% of all sales at dispensaries, but cannot be produced quickly enough because of the time needed for the plants to mature. As the industry grows, many are concerned that supply won’t be able to keep up with demand.

This is where the scientists come in. Two companies in California, Librede and CB Therapeutics, are employing yeast to extract the necessary components in a vat. The yeast is a mutant strain that can manufacture CBD and THC in exchange for a small amount of sugar. Lab tests on a small scale have been successful, but producing lab THC and CBD on an industrial scale remains a challenge.

The two startups may have led the way, but they’re not alone. Now, biotech companies around the country are racing against time to see who can perfect the technology and take it to market. They will also be the first to grab onto an industry expected to be worth around $10 billion annually. Whoever gets there first will be able to capture the largest portion of the market.