With every new, paradigm-shifting technology there’s bound to be a few hard-to-predict effects. Usually when you think of gene editing, visions of mad scientists and scenes from Gattaca flash through your mind (well, for me at least). There’s at least one use for gene editing that doesn’t lead to a sci-fi dystopia. Or maybe it still does. It’s kind of hard to tell, really.
Either way, a patent has recently been filed for a new gene edited strain of Zymomonas mobilis, a species of bacteria that produces alcohol and is used in the production of tequila. This new strain has been edited to produce 180 bio-synthetic cannabinoids including CBD and THC—the main active chemicals in cannabis—instead of alcohol.
The patent was filed to the Frankfurt patent office by the German pharmaceutical company Farmako. They say their new process could cut down on the cost of producing THC and CBD dramatically and allow cheap, large scale production of the chemicals. According to the company, their new process would produce one kilogram of THC at one thousandth the current cost. Chief science officer of Farmako Patrick Schmitt says:
“With one production run, we can produce cannabinoids for 900 hours without interruption. For example, 4.5 kilograms of THC are produced per gram of bacterial mass during this time.”
Last month, scientists at the University of California in Berkeley announced they had figured out a way to make brewers yeast produce cannabinoids instead of alcohol. Farmako says their method is even more economical and could produce higher yields.
Apparently things that make alcohol can be rearranged to make THC pretty easily. That’s one of those curveballs the future throws that’s impossible to see coming. According to Patrick Schmitt:
“In principle, nothing else happens during biosynthesis than during alcohol fermentation, with the difference that cannabinoids instead of alcohol are the outcome of the process. All we need as a starting point is glucose.”
So nothing else happens except you get different stuff. That’s like saying “Yeah, building a house and building a boat are pretty similar, except one’s a boat.”
To make the gene edited, THC producing tequila bacteria, all Farmako had to do was remove the gene that produces alcohol insert a couple genes from cannabis and a couple genes from malaria. Yeah, it’s the malaria you’re thinking of. With gene editing, everything produces THC.
The company says that the new bacteria, which they’re calling Zymomonas cannabinoidis could revolutionize the cannabis industry. Niklas Kouparanis, CEO and co-founder of Farmako says:
“Making any cannabinoid synthetically and incredibly efficient is the breakthrough for cannabis in medicine. Our patent will revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry in cannabis as much as the biosynthesis of insulin. The cannabis industry is therefore facing such rapid upheavals as, for example, the entertainment industry when Netflix became popular.”
Although, can you really call it the cannabis industry if there’s not really any cannabis involved? This stupid future of ours is stealing everyone’s job, even the weed plants.