Can Cannabinoids Be Produced From Yeast?
And More Importantly, Should They Be?
Yes, cannabinoids can be produced from yeast. Several U.S. bioengineering firms like Librede, Ginkgo Bioworks, and Cellibre have either successfully produced cannabinoids from yeast or have established the means to do so. And big cannabis industry companies such as Canada’s Cronos Group are lining up to do business with them. But are genetically modified cannabinoids like CBD and THC a suitable outcome to the long struggle to reclaim the natural benefits of marijuana and hemp?
How They Do It
Two things are essential—in nature or the lab—for an organism to create cannabinoids:
- The precursor molecules necessary for cannabinoid creation
- The enzymes to convert the precursor molecules to specific cannabinoids
Hexanoic acid and geranyl diphosphate (GPP) are not uncommon in plants. Hexanoic acid eventually turns into olivetolic acid, and along with GPP, it synthesizes into cannabigerolic acid.
Should They Do It?
The arguments for genetically modifying yeast to produce cannabinoids are compelling, just like all other GMO arguments when one does not take into consideration the effects they might have. Typically, they cut costs and time, and that attracts big business.
Librede claims that their entire process will take a week; they estimate that they’ll be able to make a gram of CBD for 20 cents using genetically modified yeast.
Bioengineers and researchers, however, have more specific arguments for producing cannabinoids from yeast.
Big industry involvement means more access to funding. More funding means more research. This, in turn, leads to awareness, which leads to further elimination of cannabis stigma and more legalization.
But what about farmers? Farmers have been wronged time and again with industrial hemp promises. Before the 1930s, industrial hemp was widely cultivated in the U.S. Americans were even legally bound to grow it in the Colonial Era. But the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 eventually put American farmers out of the business. Then, during World War II, the USDA encouraged farmers to once again grow industrial hemp with their “Hemp for Victory” campaign. But once the war was over, the government quietly shut the industry down. Again.
Currently, 47 states allow for some form of hemp cultivation and production. It is largely the excitement for the industry of industrial hemp that legislation has been able to pass in so many states. Legislators in states like Kentucky and Kansas passed laws with farmers’ interests at stake.
The CBD market is projected to grow to over $200 billion by 2020. What will become of industrial hemp farmers, once again, if they are beaten to market by cheaper CBD produced in a lab using genetically modified yeast?
There is also the question of what will happen to the benefits of full spectrum CBD that will be lost in producing individual cannabinoids in the lab with yeast. Dr. Jonathan Page is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia and holds patent applications for several of the genes in the THC synthesis pathway. In a recent article, he admitted that nothing is better than the cannabis plant.
“Right now, we have a plant that is essentially the Ferrari of the plant world when it comes to producing the chemical of interest,” Dr. Page said. “Cannabis is hard to beat.”
But he goes on to say that creating cannabinoids from yeast could allow more research to be done on those cannabinoids that are not so abundant in the plant, but may have remarkable therapeutic benefits.
The real question is, if given a choice, would you want CBD that was derived from genetically modified yeast? For anyone who is using CBD, especially full spectrum CBD, traditional medicine has likely failed them. Should the big companies be allowed to determine our access to natural products, and can scientists really recreate the architecture of a natural plant that works so well with the architecture of our natural endocannabinoid system (ECS)?
The Nature’s Breakthrough educational resource is just one of the ways The Hemp Haus practices its sincere commitment to and passion for educating people about CBD and helping them find the right, high-quality product based on their needs.
Koebler, J. “Biohackers Are Engineering Yeast to Make THC.” Motherboard. 10 July 2014. Web. Accessed 30 October 2018. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/ae3kv4/biohackers-are-engineering-yeast-to-make-thc
Kaplan, J. “Does CBD Only Come From Cannabis and Hemp?” Leafly. 12 July 2018. Web. Accessed 29 October 2018. https://www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/does-cbd-only-come-from-cannabis-and-hemp
Khamsi, R. “Newly Risen from Yeast: THC.” The New York Times. 14 September 2015. Web. Accessed 30 October 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/15/science/newly-risen-from-yeast-thc.html