Why Plant Genetics are important for the medical cannabis industry

The car racing industry teams are always searching for incremental improvement to get a few millisecond improvements but once every few generations one team makes a dramatic change by thinking about solving problems through a completely new lens. At Cymra Life Sciences we wholeheartedly believe in better outcomes through innovation and try to look at things with an approach of “could this process be done more effectively?”.

Cannabis is a new commercial crop and Cymra is one of the few worldwide companies focused on genetics in medical cannabis. Crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and wheat have had hundreds of years of commercial development, cannabis has had less than a decade and has been tightly controlled by government restrictions/legislations placed on the industry. Simon Pettinger, Cymra’s COO, who has over 10 years experience with plant breeding and tissue culture notes  “cannabis has been and continues to be restricted by Governments around the world so has the speed of innovation around genetic improvement. The opportunity to make cannabis a more efficient and cost effective crop to reduce costs for patients has huge worldwide potential”.

We set out to breed a cannabis plant that would provide agricultural efficiencies for growers. Once agricultural scale and efficiency occurs patients will have affordable access to potentially beneficial medicines. Of course, there will always be high end segments of the cannabis industry who believe in premium indoor flower, but we believe it is not sustainable for a patient who may have to pay over $300 a month for their pain medication in Australia (we acknowledge that government regulation also plays a considerable part in the high patient costs, particularly in Australia). 

Through innovative breeding we believe we can produce more cost effective medical cannabis medicines and continue to operate in a high cost country such as Australia. Cymra has set out to do this by focusing on plant agronomics, breeding new cannabis varieties with better input traits, that deliver agronomic efficiency gains.    increased yields, and resistance to pests and disease. 

Agronomic Efficiency  

Agronomic efficiency is maximising the efficiency of the grower and the plant to reduce labour and overall costs where growing occurs in limited spaces, whether indoor, outdoor or greenhouse. 

Plant breeding has gone hand in hand with the technology development of greenhouses and horticultural equipment, this is evident in crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Growing a tomato plant at home in your garden is a very different experience to growing one inside a greenhouse and we believe the same should be said of commercial cannabis. To reduce costs for patients the cannabis plant needs to be grown more efficiently when compared to how a hobbyist would grow at home.

Higher Yields 

Cymra believes is focusing on creating a ‘sea of green’ through breeding a new agronomic form vs intensive plant training and trimming. This new form will have less branching and a longer internode length. This new ‘sea of green’ created through individual plants will ultimately lead to more primary buds per sqm than current practices. Whether a cultivator is indoor, outdoor or greenhouse their space is limited and maximum yield is critical as supply of cannabis increases around the world.

As found by Namdar et al with their 2018 study “the amounts of cannabinoids and terpenoids in the inflorescences decreased with the position of the sampled inflorescence from top to bottom of the flowering stem”. In fact their results showed that upper stem flowers produced up to 40% more than mid flowers and 80% more than lower stem flowers. 

Through focusing on breeding plants that only produce a single primary flower that can be planted close together we believe there will be a dramatic increase in yield for cultivators.

Pest and Disease 

This new agronomic form will promote airflow around the bud reducing mould risk but importantly those plants will promote air flow through the canopy and reduce bugs and diseases spreading through direct contact. Cymra’s lead plant breeder Matthew Turner, with nearly 30 years experience in breeding and research in plants which include field crops such as wheat, states  “that the novel form enables many production possibilities that are not available for typical Cannabis types, and consequently we are optimising our production strategy to further reduce the likelihood of pest and disease outbreaks”

The new agronomic form also has the added benefit of little to no trimming of leaves and stems required to make a sea of green. This means there will be a reduction in wound points on the plant which decrease disease vectors into the plant and ultimately reduce the risks of disease.  

What does this mean for cultivators?

Based on our research, current cannabis production methods typically have 5-6 plants per square meter with 6 primary buds and up to 5 secondary buds per plant. Our new approach could see up to 15-20 plants per square meter and therefore 15 primary bus per square meter. 

We estimate this could see yield increase of 57% per sqm per turn. With up to a 73% saving in labour. Turner states “we are breeding plants that will fit into a novel production system, which will increase cannabinoid yields per square metre. He added that “when developing the production system the early prototypes of this form showed promising yield potential”.

Cymra is currently working on delivering improved localised hybrids that have been through an intensive testing and quality assurance process, providing comprehensive data and trial results to help cultivators make the decision about which variety is best suited to their conditions.

What does this mean for patients?

If cultivators can improve their yield per square meter and reduce labour costs the overall costs of supply of cannabis will come down dramatically. Its important to understand that initially this will be more for pharmaceutical formats that are not flower initially but as the science and agronomic trials evolve it could affect the whole market. Agronomic efficiencies take a long time to develop through conventional breeding programs where a cannabis plant takes ~ 10 weeks to seed and reproduce but the development of these genetics should change the market forever.

Who is Cymra?

With exclusive genetics and tissue culture services, Cymra helps cannabis cultivators increase productivity and reduce risk.  We have a team of plant breeders, plant scientists and agricultural experts that are focused on helping cultivators succeed. Cymra is focused on partnering with Australian cultivators to develop and deliver unique genetics suited to their agronomic and eventual final product formulation for their environment.

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