«This experiment will accelerate our breeding program far beyond anything else in the world»
Dr. Gavin George is the Lead Technology Manager at Puregene AG. We took the chance to talk to him about Puregene’s latest field trials.
Gavin George, what exactly is a field trial and why is it so important?
GAVIN GEORGE: Field trials can be lots of things. But for us right now it means exploring the diversity of cannabis and integrating an incredible amount of information from the trial into our breeding program. We have a great deal of diversity in the thousands of different varieties growing on this field. From the seven thousand plants we have in front of us, we are going to record every last piece of information that we can, including measurements of all visible phenotypes as well as the cannabinoids and terpenes. We also extract DNA from every plant and sequence it. All the data will be put together. Our goal is to identify where each of the traits is located on the genome.
Everyone is talking about traits when it comes to plants. What is your definition of a trait?
GG: Every organism has various quantifiable measures that make them different from other members of their species. If you look at humans, it might be eye color or height. If you look at cannabis plants, it might be their growth pattern, the color of their flowers, the number of branches or the quantity of cannabinoids. These are all various phenotypes. When we can identify a phenotype that we can measure, we link it to the region of the genome. That is what we call a trait.
Why are you trying to identify these different traits?
GG: What we want is a catalog of traits. We might have producers who are growing outdoors in Africa. Others might be growing indoors in Europe or northern Scandinavia. They all have different requirements when it comes to the cannabis plant. If we fully understand the different traits, we can customize the plants and be able to give producers the opportunity to define what exactly they need.
Is the process a challenging one?
GG: Yes. Cannabis is often called the plant of a thousand products. It produces many cannabinoids and terpenes, and it grows in so many different ways. The growth patterns of the plants are extremely diverse. Some of them are very leafy, some of them are shaped like Christmas trees, some of them are bushy. And this has a huge impact on how they are farmed. The challenge for us is to be able to lock down which traits are important – not just for now, but for the future. In the beginning we already had a long list of traits that we were interested in and then during the field trial we identified even more that have become accessible because of our analysis pipeline. So, we are adding more and more phenotypes, which we can quantify and then develop into novel traits.
What makes your program so special?
GG: Many Cannabis breeders are looking at publicly available genomes. There are a few of these and some of them are relatively high quality. We are in a different position. The pangenome that we have developed reveals an incredible amount of diversity in the cannabis species. We have fully sequenced it. That is why we have a very good understanding of the plants. The Puregene team has invested an enormous amount of resources to get us to the point where we can conduct such an experiment. This experiment will generate vast amounts of information and accelerate our breeding program far beyond anything else in the world. We are functionalizing our genomes in the most meaningful way that is available, and that’s what’s going to set us apart in the future.