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article imageMarijuana products produced by yeast - Appealing to non-smokers

By Karen Graham     Oct 22, 2018 in World
With cannabis legal in a number of states and Canada, and even though pot is an agricultural product, not everyone wants to smoke it. So scientists have found a way to make pot's two most valuable compounds in a pot - using yeast.
Two of marijuana's most sought-after compounds are THC, the compound in marijuana that gets you high, and CBD, another cannabis compound used for its medicinal effects, such as controlling pain or the seizures of epilepsy.
We can get these products from cannabis plants by growing them in greenhouses, then extracting and isolating the active ingredients. But it is a long and expensive process. However, scientists have found a process that would make the production of the two compounds faster and cheaper, thereby creating two industries - Pharma and legal cannabis.
Interestingly, food and drink items called "edibles," have seen explosive growth recently, and now account for nearly 40 percent of the medical marijuana market. And according to the Hampshire Gazette, "they can’t grow cannabis fast enough, which is why scientists are trying to produce it in labs."
Vats of yeast to start
On September 4, Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, which calls itself “the organism company," landed a deal worth about $100 million with Cronos Group Inc. to partner in producing cultured cannabinoids.
Gingko has a platform for engineering biology powered by state-of-the-art automation and custom-built software used to design and print DNA. According to The Guardian, Gingko has promised to produce the active ingredients in marijuana from genetically modified microorganisms, such as yeast, at greater purity and for less money than using cannabis plants.
Gingko has the world's largest library of designed DNA sequences, Ginkgo has extensive expertise in the biology of enzymes for the production of molecules used in industries from flavor and fragrance to food to pharmaceuticals. The company plans on transferring the DNA sequences for cannabinoid production into yeast.
A small home-brewing set up
A small home-brewing set up
Makyo (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Likening the process to brewing beer, the company says that yeast is basically acting like a "factory," converting sugar into alcohol. But with modifying the DNA of yeast or another organism, they aim to convert a “soup” of sugar, vitamins, nitrogen, and other ingredients into THC, CBD and other chemicals found in marijuana.
And yes, it will be done in brewing vats, much like beer brewing. While the process may be challenging, the science is already in place, said Ginkgo’s head of business development, Jess Leber. “It’s something we can wrap our heads around pretty readily.” Leber points out that similar technologies are already being used to produce inexpensive compounds such as animal and human food additives. “That citric acid is not coming from citrus.”
The future looks bright for cannabis compounds
The marijuana plant is believed to have over 100 different compounds known as cannabinoids. Today, there is a market for just two, tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, and cannabidiol, CBD. Another compound, cannabigerol (CBG) has its own medical properties. But it can also be easily chemically converted into other cannabinoids, including THC.
Actually, if you take the time to do a bit of research, you will find that there are quite a number of new companies getting into the cannabis biofactory sector. For example, Diego-based Cellibre, says it plans to use microorganisms which will produce cannabinoids more efficiently than Ginkgo.
On October 15, Canopy Growth, a large Canadian marijuana company, said it would acquire cannabis and hemp-related technologies developed by the Colorado start-up Ebbu, including a way to greatly reduce the cost of producing CBD from hemp in a deal said to be worth over $300 million.
More about Yeast, Marijuana, nonsmokers, Biofactories, Synthetic biology
 
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