Cannabis Q&A with: Sunrise Genetics President and COO Matt Gibbs
Sunrise Genetics is the first organization to provide a complete assembly of the cannabis genome. They presented their work at the 26th Plant and Genome Conference, which ran from Jan. 13 -17 of 2018.
I gave the President and COO of Sunrise Genetics, Matt Gibbs a call in Colorado to talk about the advent of cannabis genomics research and what it means for licensed cannabis producers in 2018 and beyond.
By Justin Bellmore
This is our interview:
Justin: Let’s start by talking about what it is that Sunrise Genetics does.
Matt: Sunrise genetics is a biotechnology company that specializes in cannabis genomics.
We develop different genomics tools to advance the breeding effort of cannabis and to better understand the plant.
Through understanding of the genes in the cannabis genome, we’re able to build different tools to understand how the plant works or produces a certain chemical or fights off pests, or how drought-tolerant it is.
J: How does investing in genetic research benefit licensed cannabis producers?
M: Consumers want a consistent product whether it is recreational or medicinal. The LPs want to make sure they can deliver what it is the consumer wants.
These tools can identify a plant genetically so that there is transparency from the very beginning. And give their customers assurance. We can provide that.
It’s also important for LPs to differentiate themselves. To create novel and consistent plants and monetize their new creation. There are a variety of ways we provide value to LPs.
J: The most commonly known cannabinoids are THC and cannabidiol. With your mapping of the cannabis genome, what other cannabinoids have you found in the plant so far, and what would their applications be?
M: Actually, there are many genomic maps of cannabis. But what we’ve done is we’ve created the first one that is actually ordered into the 10 chromosomes of the plant.
Think about it like a map that’s now been ordered into the shape of Canada – it’s been put into all the provinces, and broken down further into the cities. And we also know the topography of the map.
And so this means we can put flags in different places that identify where to find THC or cannabidiol, or anything else, in the genome.
J: And before the genetic map, scientists and researchers would run into problems like…?
M: Well, there was no agreed upon standards from which to replicate anyone else’s work, so from a scientific perspective, there were claims that could not be reproduced or proven.
With a map, we can all agree on boundary lines, where things are, and the distance between them and it allows us to accelerate breeding, it allows us to accelerate the discovery of genes, and eventually it will allow for legitimate clinical trials.
We’re just starting to understand the plant at its DNA level because now we can agree upon a map from which to experiment from.
J: So really it’s similar to the 23 & Me product in that I can give their lab a strand of my hair or some skin cells and they would analyze it and send me a package in the mail detailing my likelihood for male pattern-baldness, autism, or high-blood pressure?
M: That’s what it will move towards. Think of 23 & Me but go back to painted chromosomes. It won’t be able to tell you you’re going to bald yet, but it can in a year or two.
What I would say is the assembly of the genome itself will be the basis from which we can launch a whole bunch of new ways to identify and categorize the plant that may be useful to you as a consumer.
We’re just at the beginning but that is what we will get to, and a lot of it will depend on what the LPs want.
J: At what level should an LPs use this kind of research on the traits in their plants? Small? Mid-level? International?
M: These tools can be used at every level. From simple things like sex testing, or producing markers, to help understand the stability of cannabinoids and terpenes and other traits related to the plant’s growth.
It’s about understanding what your plant catalogue is and identifying what you’d like to breed for improvement.
J: Do you see any push-back or skepticism about cannabis genomics?
M: Plenty. It’s science that’s been applied to many other crops and organisms in the world but it’s new to cannabis, and cannabis is new to legalization, so it’s part of us all growing as an industry and understanding what’s available to us, not being afraid of the unknown.
So the skepticism is understood, and it would be weird if there wasn’t any.
J: What’s an example of something that producers would want to see accelerated in their plant?
M: Any of the cannabinoids really. THC and CBD – they (the clients) want to know how to regulate and stabilize those two in a variety of ratios.
The goal could also be to produce seeds that are much more disease free, that have greater vigour, are cheaper to manage, or identifying the seeds that are capable of high THC production.
We can save them time and resources they would otherwise spend on “pheno hunting”. (Breeding for a specific phenotype expression in a plant, like high bud yield)
J: Do you see the work you’re doing now as an industry standard in the future? And why?
M: It likely will be a standard in the industry. It has broad implications for plant improvement and discovery of plants abilities so I think genomics is going to be the scientific basis from which the LP can choose what to commercialize and leverage for their benefit.