In a world where legal cannabis is becoming an increased reality, it’s important for the industry to be able to guarantee consistency in flavour and strength across varying strains.
To do so, scientists set out to identify the cannabis genes responsible for giving strains their lemony, skunky or earthy flavours – in much the same way that grape genes were studied by the wine industry.
The University of British Columbia researchers identified 30 terpene synthase genes – fragrant molecules generally known as terpenes – that contribute to the production of natural products like limonene, myrcene, and pinene in the cannabis plants.
“The limonene compound produces a lemon-like flavour and myrcene produces the dank, earthy flavour characteristic of purple kush,” said graduate student Judith Booth, who was collaborating with professor Jorg Bohlmann of UBC and Jonathan Page, who founded the cannabis testing and biotechnology company Anandia Labs.
The researchers also found the gene that produces the signature terpene of cannabis, beta-caryophyllene, which like THC and CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors in human cells.
“The goal is to develop well-defined and highly reproducible cannabis varieties. This is similar to the wine industry, which depends on defined varieties such as chardonnay or merlot for high value products,” said Bohlmann.
“Our genomics work can inform breeders of commercial varieties which genes to pay attention to for specific flavour qualities.
“There is a need for high-quality and consistent products made from well defined varieties,” he said.
The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.