Cannabinoid Yeast: The New Cannabis Frontier

Cannabinoid yeast is the new thing

As cannabis begins to dip its toes into the mainstream, consumer tastes are steadily becoming more refined. In the past, consumers were happy just to get a THC and CBD reading on their products, but those days are gone. Now that almost every legal state requires basic potency testing for all cannabis products, the bar is rising fast. People want to know what terpenes and cannabinoids populate their pot, and premium growers are beginning to test cannabinoid and terpene content. But there's only so much growers can do to raise levels of rare cannabinoids, so a somewhat surprising solution from the Canadian company Cronos Group: Using cannabinoid yeast to obtain isolated cannabinoids.

Sorry, Did You Say Yeast?

Yep, Cronos Group is partnering with Ginkgo Bioworks of Boston, to produce some of the more obscure cannabinoids using yeast. Essentially, the companies will collaborate to find the most efficient method of applying cannabis DNA to yeast, which will then continue to grow in the confines of the lab with the cannabinoid DNA growing along with it.

In the end, the yeast substrate will be separated out from the product, leaving just the cannabinoids behind.

While the announcements from Cronos Group and Ginkgo Bioworks play down the genetic element, this product falls square in the purview of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The only way to integrate the cannabis DNA into the yeast is to genetically engineer it into a compatible structure. For many people, this advancement represents the cutting edge of science, but others will be leery of the genetic engineering involved.

What's the Point of Cannabinoid Yeast?

Put simply, cannabinoid yeast is all about scalability. The compounds this project will target are present in minuscule amounts in the cannabis plant, and it's not financially viable to extract them. Instead of growing hundreds of thousands of plants just to squeeze out a gram or two of an isolated cannabinoid, Cronos Group hopes to skip the plant stuff altogether.

Yeast is a pretty low-maintenance life form, as anyone with a sourdough starter can attest. In addition to saving space, using yeast to farm cannabinoids also cuts down on expenses like fertilizer, water, grow lighting and more.

Scalability is also crucial for future research. It's much easier to make accurate studies of compounds when those compounds are readily acquired in adequate amounts.

What Cannabinoids Will Come First?

Cronos Group and Ginkgo haven't provided an itemized list of which cannabinoids they'll go after first. Here are a few of the compounds that would make good candidates for cannabinoid yeast development.

  • THCv: Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCv) came to scientific attention in 1973, and interest has grown in recent years. THCv can lead to a high when consumed in large quantities.
  • CBG: Cannabigerol (CBG) is found predominantly in hemp plants. Your average high-THC strain almost never contains more than one percent CBG. This is unfortunate, as CBG is one of the most useful cannabinoids we know of so far.
  • CBN: Cannabinol (CBN) is a derivative of the ever-popular THC. As THC ages, it begins to break down into CBN very slowly.
  • CBC: Cannabichromene (CBC) is yet another cannabinoid we've known of for decades, but haven't explored too deeply.

Cannabinoid yeast development might be able to make all these compounds accessible for medical studies and further scientific advancement.

Is Cannabinoid Yeast a Realistic Project?

Cronos Group is in good company with this foray into cannabis genetics. Back in 2016, Canadian biotech company Hyasynth used the cannabinoid yeast process to synthesize CBG. Fellow Canadian firm Anandia Labs, as well as a group of biochemists in Germany, has also since made announcements of their entry into the game.

With multiple organizations making a move on technology, there should be growing momentum on the cannabis research front.