Researchers are using firefly genes to understand cannabis biology

Researchers are using firefly genes to understand cannabis biology
Cannabis Health News

Scientists at the University of Connecticut are using the light-producing genes in fireflies to understand cannabis biology. The researchers hope the study will aid hemp farmers with the common problem of overproducing THC. Cannabinoids are produced by trichomes, small spikey protrusions on the surface of cannabis flowers. Beyond this fact, scientists know very little about how cannabinoid biosynthesis is controlled. Researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) are using funding from the US Department of Agriculture to discover the underlying molecular mechanisms behind trichrome development and cannabinoid synthesis. To do this, they will be looking at firefly genes. The project is led by UConn research assistant professor Yi Ma and Gerry Berkowitz, professor in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Berkowitz and Ma discovered factors responsible for trichome initiation and cannabinoid biosynthesis.  In this case, the factors cause epidermal cells on the flowers to morph into trichomes. The team’s discovery was recently published as a feature article in Plants. Related trichome research was also published in Plant Direct. Due to the gene’s potential economic impact, UConn has filed a provisional patent application on the technology. With this new grant, the researchers will continue to explore how these factors play a role in trichome development during flower maturation. To do this, the researchers are making copies of firefly luciferase, the gene that allows fireflies to light up. The luciferase gene will be fused to the cannabis plant to generate light, indicating when there is an increase in trichome development. “It’s a nifty way to evaluate signals that orchestrate cannabinoid synthesis and trichome development,” says Berkowitz. Ma and Berkowitz will use an instrument called a luminometer, which measures how much light comes from the sample. This will tell the researchers if the regions they are looking at are controlled by the factors…

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