Scientists have come closer to engineering drug-free cannabis plant after identifying genes that produce psychoactive substance in marijuana.
University of Minnesota researchers have identified genes producing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana, which could lead to new and better drugs for pain, nausea and other conditions.
The study showed that the genes are active in tiny hairs covering the flowers of Cannabis plants.
In marijuana, the hairs accumulate high amounts of THC, whereas in hemp the hairs have little. Hemp and marijuana are difficult to distinguish apart from differences in THC.
With the genes identified, finding a way to silence them-and thus produce a drug-free plant - comes a step closer to reality, say researchers.
Another desirable step is to make drug-free plants visually recognizable.
Since the hairs can be seen with a magnifying glass, this could be accomplished by engineering a hairless Cannabis plant.
The researchers are currently using the methods of the latest study to identify genes that lead to hair growth in hopes of silencing them.
"We are beginning to understand which genes control hair growth in other plants, and the resources created in our study will allow us to look for similar genes in Cannabis sativa," said David Marks, a professor of plant biology in the College of Biological Sciences.
"Cannabis genetics can contribute to better agriculture, medicine, and drug enforcement," said George Weiblen, an associate professor of plant biology and a co-author of the study.
he finding is published in the Journal of Experimental Botany.