Tissue Culture Cannabis Pushes Past the “Cutting Edge” of Cloning

“Cloning” sounds futuristic (and possibly sinister—especially when applied to sheep and monkeys).  But most of us did this in grade school:

Take a rooted cutting from a “mother plant (for example, a chunk of raw potato that is sprouting an “eye”), plant it in soil, and you’ll grow a “clone” of that mother—a new plant, genetically identical to the mother.

This technique is thousands of years old.  It offers huge advantages over starting from seed (including much more reliable results and faster cultivation).  But it’s by no means perfect. Not only are clones notoriously susceptible to pests and disease (which can be passed directly from mother to clone during the cutting process), but the results aren’t necessarily truly identical. Genetic drift and random mutation are still common.

Cloning vs. Tissue Culture Cannabis

For decades, most commercial agriculture has embraced a different cloning process: Tissue culture (also called “micropropagation”).  Instead of

tissue culture cannabis production
Plant tissue cultures in the Population, Genetics and Genomics laboratory at the Agriculture Research Service National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation. (source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, photographer Lance Cheung)

splitting off a rooted piece of a mother plant, tissue culture relies on snipping a small sample from an “explant” under clean-room conditions.  Then, instead of planting this cutting in soil, the sample is placed in nutrient media, where its cells can reproduce without exposure to pathogens or other interference.  By tinkering with the nutrients and vitamins available in the growth media, lab techs can even control when the plant enters each stage of growth, or keep it in a sort of indefinite hibernation.

As Hope Jones, CEO of marijuana consulting firm Emergent Cannabis Sciences, recently told Marijuana Business Magazine, “These techniques are done in big ag, the food industry. We’re just adapting what’s already out there [to cannabis production].”  Although it may sound a little intimidating to those with little lab experience, tissue culture is actually quite straightforward, according to Jones.  “Most anyone who has the desire, the willingness and some funds to designate to this can do it.”

While initial set-up costs are higher than for a cutting-based cloning operation, the benefits of shifting to tissue culture cannabis cloning are astounding.

Eager to learn more?  This article from cannabis industry trade publication Cannabis Tech is a great place to start.

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