UBC researchers receive more than $4 million to breed better bud

With more countries legalizing the use of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, Canada is adding production of higher quality cannabis on its to-do list for this decade.

UBC has received $4.2 million in funding for research on breeding higher quality strains of cannabis. The project, which aims to genetically incorporate powdery mildew resistance into cannabis cultivars, is led by UBC researchers Drs. Loren Reiseberg and Marco Todesco in collaboration with Dr. Greg Baute, Charles Pick and their team at Aurora Cannabis. The project is currently set on a very tight schedule and the funding has been spread across three years.

The project was one of 10 genomic projects that received funding from Genome Canada, a not-for-profit organization funded by the Government of Canada.

“[The] thing that is unique about cannabis is that since it has been illegal for so long, there’s really barely any science [on it], so that’s exciting for us from a certain perspective, because it means that there’s many, many things that we can study and discover,” Todesco said.

“In the past, most of the breeding in cannabis has been done illegally so most breeders would spray the plants with a fungicide and be done with it,” added Todesco. “Now, there are many more controls. Now it’s legal and if you can do without fungicides, that’s for the best.

“We are now looking to control [pathogen contamination], not with chemicals or fungicides, but with genetic resistance.”

The researchers hope to enhance cannabis quality with the improved cultivars and reduce the losses to pathogen contamination, or contamination caused by bacteria and viruses.

“We [will] sequence the genome of 12 cannabis strains, and then use these to understand the diversity out there,” said Todesco regarding the next steps for the research.

According to Genome Canada, cannabis is predicted to become one of the largest crops in Canada over the coming decade. This research will open doors for future cannabis research across the country, which could eventually aid mass production of cannabis products. Aurora hopes for this project to increase the revenue on medical cannabis for Canadians beyond $1 billion.

“The results of this project will benefit the Canadian cannabis industry and Canadian consumers, but also basic and applied science,” said Todesco in a press release.

The data from the research will be made publicly available once the research has been completed. According to Todesco, the team is hoping to have the product ready within the next three to four years.