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Uncovering Cannabis Ancestry Through Science

Genome Testing Cannabis Now

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Uncovering Cannabis Ancestry Through Science

Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

Uncovering Cannabis Ancestry Through Science

Genome testing kits take the guesswork out of identifying strains.

Until recently, if you created a unique hybrid or preserved the last specimen of an exceptional genetic line, you had absolutely no way to copyright your difficult, proprietary work.

Consider the example of Sam the Skunkman, an American cultivator who moved to Amsterdam in the mid-1980s, bringing along with him a veritable treasure trove of seeds from across the world and hybrids he’d created or preserved.

It would be easy to make a long list of Skunkman seeds that entered “the scene” once he started supplying Dutch seed vendors, but it’s probably more effective to just list two: Original Haze and Skunk #1 — a pair of legendary strains that made a dramatic and permanent impact on the cannabis gene pool that endures to this day.

While there is still a long way to go before we have a complete picture of cannabis genetics, today we know enough to launch an exciting new project that both utilizes this data as well as adds to it: The Phylos Genotype kit.

We are finally mapping the cannabis universe and it is a thrilling thing to behold. What has been a mysterious area of botany — shrouded in myth, superstition, the fallibility of memory and the dearth of specific information due to years of underground status — is now becoming more and more clearly defined.

Photo Courtesy Phylos Bioscience

Photo Courtesy Phylos Bioscience

Since beginning their Cannabis Evolution Project back in 2014, the Portland, Oregon-based company Phylos Bioscience has been vigorously pinning data points on the map, and the donations of genetics they’ve received since the project began have gone a great way into establishing a skeletal structure of the genetic relationships between many of our modern cannabis varieties.

When it comes to Skunkman’s genetic legacy, the science speaks volumes. From the gene pool they’ve accumulated thus far, Phylos researchers have boiled down the genetic ancestry of all samples to six subgroups, which appear to be the genetic pillars of all cannabis strains.

“Skunk” is not just one of those pillars — it seems to represent about one-third of the entire species.

Although he has found success in many other areas of cannabis, Sam the Skunkman has never received his just dues for the verifiably large contributions he made to modern cannabis genetics.

San Francisco Bay Area-based breeder Dragonfish Farms, best known locally for their work with the Red Congolese variety, is one of the first in the industry taking advantage of Phylos’ services to identify the original hybrids they’re developing.

Dragonfish Farms co-owner Tyson Graham was introduced to Phylos by the farm’s attorney as a way to insure their intellectual property would not be exploited by others.

In Graham’s view, the great lengths Dragonfish went in order to preserve Red Congolese for many years (as well as the arduous process of making the hybrid seeds — like Red Alien, a Red Congolese x White Fire Alien OG hybrid of exceptional potency — and selecting phenotypes) more than justifies their claim to the resulting genetics.

“We’re just the little guys trying to protect ourselves,” he said.

Anyone who has gone through the time and effort involved in a propagation project of any kind — but perhaps Sam the Skunkman most of all — would readily agree.

Genome Testing

For the purposes of this article, a clone of Sour Diesel was acquired from a randomly chosen, well-established nursery. Why Sour Diesel? It’s hard to think of cannabis variety that more frequently ends the statement: “that’s not the REAL [insert strain here].”

Of course the real question is, does it work?

When the results were received from Phylos, the answer to this question was yes — more or less.

In the first section, “Closest Genetic Relatives,” the sample resided in a slightly different area than others labeled as just Diesel and East Coast Sour Diesel on the map of genotype connections.

The same genome profile had been tested before, according to the second section that detailed “Clonal Relationships.”

This submission also overlapped with submitted varieties named just Sour Diesel and also some called Platinum Headband, AJ’s Sour Diesel and NYCD, among others.

Sour Diesel’s “Genetic Novelty Score” in the next portion of the report was almost fully to the side of “common,” which should be a surprise to no one.

The “Population Profile” section illustrated the six genetic subgroups discussed previously and listed Sour’s heritage as almost 50/50 from the OG Kush and Skunk subgroups.

Breeders of the future will be able to utilize the “Clonal Relationships” category to find varieties that fall into distinctly different familial subgroups to better exploit the advantages of hybridization.

The “Genetic Variation” chart will also be extremely helpful: by seeing where a variety falls on this chart, one can breed for relatively “true” traits and predictable results (less variation) or those that have more variation and will lead to progeny with a wider spectrum of characteristics — either can be quite useful to a plant breeder, depending on their intent.

The final entry in the results is “Genetically Distant Varieties,” which suggests which strains might be useful in breeding projects with the submitted sample type. While some of these entries seem logical — Colombian Gold x Sour Diesel does sound quite interesting, does it not? — others are puzzling. Chemdawg was listed as being genetically distant from our Sour Diesel sample, which almost defies explanation and may be an anomaly.

Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

So was it the “real” Sour Diesel? Yes, in a way: it was definitively the same plant as other things named Sour Diesel, yet slightly removed from other plants also named Sour Diesel.

In the future that Phylos is building towards, with the work done previously and with the samples these kits will bring, there will be no such confusion. The Sour Diesel of the future — we’ll just call it ‘Future Diesel’ for the sake of explanation —  will have its genome charted and placed firmly on the map. Then growers will be able to submit a sample for testing and find out if it really is Future Diesel.

And if cannabis follows the traits and methods of other disciplines, there may even be organizations handing out pedigree certifications to make sure the Future Diesel carried by stores and propagated by nurseries is the “real deal.”

Originally published in Issue 26 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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