Canadian study provides new look at genetic markers for cannabis breeding

| Staff

Researchers in Canada have released the results of a new study on the development of molecular tools for cannabis breeders and researchers.

The goal of the research is to help develop tools to more easily identify specific genetic traits in cannabis sought by breeders, such as selecting traits for specific cannabinoid ratios for medical or non-medical applications. 

This study unveils high-value markers linked to essential agronomic and morphological traits identified through genome-wide association studies conducted on 176 drug-type cannabis samples.

Four key productivity-related traits were identified—fresh biomass, dried flower weight, sexual maturity and harvest maturity, as well as stem diameter, canopy diameter, height, internode length index, and node counts. Samples showed a significant variety in all of these traits, from low and high total biomass, height, flowering time, etc. 

One challenge in this type of work with cannabis, as explained in the research paper, is that the cannabis gene pool has been severely limited by prohibition and the specific demands of the commercial cannabis market. Despite this, cannabis still exhibits a notable level of phenotypic variation. 

This limited gene pool for cannabis is a problem for breeders as the plant lacks the robust wild-type or landrace gene pool available to many other commercially cultivated plants. Although hemp-type cannabis is somewhat distinct from “drug-type” cannabis varieties, they share enough common features that it can make identifying genetic variations difficult but a “critical necessity.”

Because of this, the findings, although requiring further analysis, can play a role in more efficiently and effectively identifying the desired genetic traits different breeders seek. This will require continued and growing collaboration between researchers and industry to utilize this new genetic knowledge and translate it into practical, innovative, and sustainable breeding strategies.

“Our findings open new avenues for advancing cannabis breeding programs and addressing the diverse needs of emerging industries,” concludes the paper. “The application of a high-density genotyping approach yielded an extensive catalogue of high-quality SNPs, effectively capturing the genomic diversity of drug-type cannabis. 

“The distribution of these markers across different chromosomes, coupled with high quality phenotypic data, facilitated the identification of molecular markers associated with complex agronomic and morphological traits. These markers hold great promise for further investigations to elucidate their functional links with phenotype variations, making them valuable assets for precision breeding efforts.”

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