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Medicinal Genomics Team Announces Sequencing of Two Cannabis Genomes

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The private firm Medicinal Genomics announced today that it has sequenced the genomes of two Cannabis strains — C. sativa and C. indica — and assembled more than 131 billion bases of Cannabis sequence.

In a statement today, Medicinal Genomics' Founder and Head of Scientific Operations Kevin McKernan, formerly with Life Technologies, said the Medicinal Genomics team initially tried to tackle the C. sativa genome using a short read sequencing, but decided to focus on a triple-backcrossed cultivars and shift to a platform generating longer reads to get a more complete view of the genome.

"With the long reads we can sort out the variation in the strain and phase alleles so that we can make biological sense of the sequencing data," McKernan said, noting, for instance, that the researchers have assemble some synthase genes into relatively long phased blocks.

Researchers from Medicinal Genomics, which has its corporate headquarters in Massachusetts but conducts its scientific operations in the Netherlands, got about 18 times coverage of the C. indica genome with 700 and 800 base pair reads generated with the Roche 454 GS FLX+ system through the Roche 454 Sequencing Center in Branford, Conn.

There appears to be around 1 percent genomic variation between Cannabis strains. The team eventually hopes to sequence several Cannabis varieties to get a even better sense of the variation that exists within the plant, along with the genetics underlying specific plant traits.

Those involved in the budding research effort said the work is expected to produce a better understanding of Cannabis genetic and genomic patterns, clues about therapeutic compounds they produce, and insights into their possible benefits for treating cancer, inflammatory disease, and other conditions.

"Despite compelling evidence of the therapeutic benefits of Cannabis," McKernan said, "very little genomics research has been performed in this area."

With the genome sequence data in hand, for instance, researchers are trying to track down non-psychoactive compounds and key therapeutic pathways that can might be cloned into another plant or optimized in Cannabis, possibly in combination with directed breeding to minimize the plants psychoactive properties.

Medicinal Genomics said that the project may also yield information with non-medical applications. "Aside from being a useful tool to discover small-molecule therapeutic drug candidates, there are many other commercial applications of these sequences, including the design of genomic assays that measure genes predictive of cannabinoid levels in the plants at seedling stages," it said.

"Use of these genomic assays will help regulate the medicinal Cannabis market through better oversight and labeling," they added, "and will inform selective breeding in both Cannabis and hemp production."

The Medicinal Genomics team plans to make raw sequence data for C. indica — and an annotated version of the genome — available to other members of the research community this fall.