Scientists Did a Massive DNA Study on Global Weed Strains. Here’s What They Found

An analysis of 110 cannabis genomes upended prevailing assumptions about the plant’s history of cultivation.

Cannabis Sativa is a modern cash crop that has a rich history that spans thousands of years. This plant, which has given the world hemp and other earthly pleasures, is Cannabis. Even though new strains of cannabis are being bred to produce psychoactive and medicinal effects, it is still unclear where the original origins of cannabis domesticated. This is partly due to legal restrictions that prevent scientists from getting plant samples.

A team of international scientists spent many years working through the bureaucracy surrounding these green weeds to provide “a unique global perspective of the domestication and genetic resources for research into modern breeds of C. sativa.” According to Science Advances published Friday,

The 110 genomes of C. were analyzed. The researchers analyzed 110 whole genomes of C. The results revealed that cannabis was derived from one ancestral source in northwest China. This challenges the widely held belief that C. The Central Asian center for crop domestication is where sativa was born.

This new research “is the largest survey with genomes of such geographically varied origins and such diverse household types”–including feral and traditional landraces as well as historical and modern cultivated varieties. Senior author Luca Fumagalli, a professor of ecology at the University of Lausanne, stated in an email that the research was necessary to conduct a comparative study of the domestication origin of a cultivated variety.

Out of 110 genomes that were collected for the study 82 were from new samples. These new samples were sourced from commercial stores and field sites in China, India and Pakistan as well as the Vavilov Institute of Plant Genetic Resources, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Guangpeng Ren, a Lanzhou University biologist, led the team. They also reanalyzed 28 genomes that were publicly available, most of them belonging to North American breeds.

Fumagalli stated that it is difficult to obtain hemp, especially drug-type samples, and feral plants. These are “ancient domesticated plant readapted to the natural environment” from non-Western countries due to legal restrictions. Fumagalli said that the team had to “convince and establish partnerships with key scientists in many key countries” and depend on the Vavilov institute “to obtain seeds from many countries where it is difficult to collect cannabis plants field-side.”

He said, “All in all this took several years.”

The team put in a lot of effort and time, and the diverse set of genomes tells a fascinating story about C.’s domestication and cultivation. Sativa. The study revealed that two lines of cannabis diverged from wild plants around 12,000 years ago. Basal cannabis is still in existence as a wild species in China and the US, while a second group was likely bred to be a multipurpose crop with nutritional, textile, and medicinal properties.

The second lineage split into two groups about 4,000 years ago: hemp breeds selected for fiber production, and marijuana breeds selected for their ability to produce cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol. (THC), which is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis. The team identified a fourth lineage, which is a branch from the drug-type strain that became wild and now grows south the Himalayas. The ancestral wild cannabis plant which gave rise to these lineages is likely extinct.

There were some interesting insights in the genetics of the marijuana and hemp groups. Both lost functional genes from their multipurpose ancestors due to their increasing specialized use as a fiber source and as a psychoactive substance.

Fumagalli explained that this suggests an ancestral condition (in wild species) with both gene functional states, an intermediate state just before or after domestication (similarly to what is observed today in plants of the Basal group), as well as a gradual loss of one or more genes after strong divergent selection began for fiber-type or drug-type plants.

The biggest surprise was however the discovery of the Basal Group, which contains 14 wild plants and landraces from China, and two wild plants from the United States. These plants likely crossed the ocean in the 19th Century.

Fumagalli stated that “an unexpected result was the existence of this Basal gene group, which did NOT comprise any of our domesticated plants Cannabis Sativa (hemp)”. It’s like finding a new breed of dog that is genetically independent of the genetic cluster that includes all dogs worldwide.

C. has been suggested in previous studies that were based on studies of feral plants. Fumagalli and colleagues believe that sativa was domesticated first by Central Asian peoples. However, Fumagalli and his collaborators suggest that the crop originated from northwest China in East Asia where the mysterious Basal group still exists. The researchers plan to continue genomic analysis on this beloved and influential plant. They also hope to pinpoint the exact location where it was first discovered by humans.

Fumagalli concluded that “Clearly, this area is important.” Future sampling could be more precise to show where plants of the Basal group are located.

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