While it is possible to patent formulas and procedures used to create specific medicines, patenting a plant was not technically possible until the recent emergence of BlockStrain technology. This is a really exciting field that I am watching closely and I will be publishing some articles on it a little later. Right now I would like to shed some light on breeding cannabis plants.
I myself am a breeder of designer Cannabis strains. To breed/create strains with specific desired traits takes a sizeable investment of time, skill and money. For this reason, and others, the idea of being able to protect specialty strains is quite attractive. To help you better understand what exactly goes into breeding and strain selection I will give you a basic overview of the processes.
First we must decide whether we need to actually create cross-breeds or just do a seed selection within an established strain to find the characteristics we desire. What cross breeding means is: We will be taking a male of one desired strain and a female of another and crossing them via pollination. We do this to try and create a hybrid that shares both the desired traits of each strain.
When the pollenated female plant nets us seeds, we then do our seed selection. Seed selection means: We will be germinating at least 100 seeds of one strain. We then grow the plants out to flower and test the flowers for cannabinoid and terpene content. After this is completed, if we were looking to sell seeds, we move on to stabilize the strain via back crossing etc. We won't get into that right now as it is a little complicated but we will talk further about it next time.
There is a tremendous amount of laboratory testing needed when carrying out the seed selection process. If outsourcing testing to an accredited lab, tests average between $60 - $250 depending on how intensive the tests are. Simple cannabinoid tests are cheaper but if we want to test for terpenes and/or acid forms the cost is much higher. The preferred situation is to build ones own lab. The most inexpensive lab costs around $40,000 - $200,000 for a simple "gas chromatograph" (GC) setup capable of testing basic decarboxylated cannabinoid concentrations. A more intensive lab capable of testing for terpenes and acid forms of cannabinoids requires a "High Performance Liquid Chromatograph" (HPLC) and costs around $350,000 - $2,000,000. This is quite expensive and requires some very skilled technicians for setup, operate and upkeep. Once one has their own lab set up, however, tests can cost as little as $2 - $10 each (plus power and staffing costs).
Methods for screening plant leaves while still in a small vegetative form do exist. These tests are able to weed out (pardon the pun) potential less desirables. Unfortunately these tests are somewhat rudimentary and only give a basic idea of the ratios of cannabinoids within the plant. While this thinning of the target plants will save money in testing, you run the risk of losing plants with valuable terpene profiles. Terpenes and true cannabinoid concentrations can only be tested for once the plants are completely grown out to flower.
So let's say that we are aiming to test all 100 of the germinated plants in full flower because we are looking for specific terpenes (terpenes influence flavour and medicinal action). This equates to a cost in testing alone of $6000 - $20,000 and will likely only net a few winning strains. On top of the testing cost is the cost of growing out the 100 plants. When growing out plants for testing it is important that the entire grow be as standardized as possible. This means that all of the plants must be the same size and shape. It also means that all plants must receive equal light, temperature, air and nutrients. In the interest of keeping costs down, I usually grow no more than 10 plants for testing per 4' x 4' area. This is almost double the plant density one would use for actual optimal batch production.
When growing for testing, we will be keeping plants very small (< 24") so we are able to have higher density and easier standardization. It is important to note that plants on the outskirts of the growing area will not receive the same light intensity as that of the plants in the middle of the tables directly under the lights. The only way to moderate this inconsistency is to over-light the whole area from a higher elevation and use a PAR meter to ensure all areas are as equally lit as possible.
Special pruning techniques must be implemented to net standardization of size and shape. This helps ensure that all plants are able to receive similar environmental conditions. Having standardized plant size will also give a better proportional representation of yield. Once we have grown out all of our 100 seed plants to flower, we can test them for desired terpenes, cannabinoid profiles and yield. If we do not find any plants that suit our needs, we can choose plants that have the right ratio of cannabinoids to in-breed into our desired needs. To do this we must do what is called self sexing or "selfing". I will delve further into "selfing" for seed production next time.
So that is a fairly brief example of the work, risks, materials and skills required to breed cannabis strains with specific characteristics. If you are interested in arranging a consultation to help you achieve any of the aforementioned, or to learn more about the processes, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kemal Evans - © 2018