Forget cloning, let tissue culture transform how companies grow cannabis.
Innovations are changing how companies grow cannabis, from advancements in greenhousetechnology to aeroponic grow operations, but to really produce superior cannabis strains companies are turning to a proven approach in the agricultural industry: tissue culture propagation.
The ever expanding global market for both legal recreational and medical cannabis has prompted commercial cannabis cultivators to look for more advanced cannabis grow methods with the ability to produce high volumes of clones while maintaining genetic continuity and preventing against disease.
Traditionally, cannabis propagation is carried out either by seeding or by cloning from cuttings. The seed route is time-consuming, carries a high degree of uncertainty as to output, and doesn’t allow for much control over cannabis genetics. Although a big advancement over seeding, conventional cloning comes with its own host of problems, including the threat of disease and the loss of desired phenotypes.
While the science behind tissue culture propagation was commercialized several decades ago and is now widely used across the agricultural sector, it may well be a transformative approach to growing cannabis. There are several benefits to tissue culturing vs the traditional methods. The cannabis growers that can successfully implement tissue culture propagation into their cultivation practices may have an advantage in a market that’s experiencing increasing demand for consistent, high quality products.
Conventional cloning just doesn’t cut it
Only the female marijuana plant is capable of producing saleable cannabis flower. But, let your females mature along with males in a crop and you’ll get a seedy batch of blah instead of the sticky blanket of crystal resin that holds all the rich terpenes and cannabinoids that makes the plant so valuable for both recreational and medical use.
Conventional cannabis propagation, or what’s more commonly called cloning, uses cuttings from one plant (known as the mother plant) to create new plants that are clones of—genetically identical to—the original plant. Compared to seeding, cloning can cut weeks off of production time and ensure an entire crop of all female, genetically uniform cannabis plants with desired traits. This uniformity is even more critical in a legalized commercial market in which both regulators and consumers demand consistent quality and safety in their cannabis products.
While cloning has many positives over traditional seeding, especially in commercial agriculture, there are some drawbacks to this method when growing cannabis. One problem is genetic mutation. Even with the most stringent environmental controls and pest management systems, the process of cloning is prone to carrying viruses, mold, other diseases and pests into the next generation.
Another problem is genetic mutation. Mother plants must be meticulously cared for and kept in a constant vegetative state to keep producing clones. Even under the best controlled conditions, mother plants can become stressed, which can negatively impact plant quality and harvest yield. Because the growing environment can have such a big influence on a plant’s phenotype, once fully grown, a clone may not have the same characteristics as the mother plant. This can result in further phenotype variations in later generations that make it challenging to ensure the genetic integrity of the strain across future crops.
In addition, conventional cloning is limited by the number of mother plants and the rate at which they can be clipped without becoming overstressed, which in turn limits a company’s ability to scale production.
Tissue culture a transformative for how companies grow cannabis
When it comes to large-scale commercial production, tissue culturing has many advantages over conventional cannabis propagation in terms of yield size, disease resistance and superior control over genetics.
With tissue culture propagation, cultivators can take plant tissue cultures as small as just a few cells from the stem of one plant and rapidly produce thousands of genetically identical clones from a variety of strains in a relatively small area. Because these tissue samples can just as easily be collected from production plants, and tissue from the mother plants can be stored cryogenically, there is no need to expend resources on maintaining mother plants.
Once collected, the tissue samples undergo a tightly controlled process that begins with sterilization followed by a series of nutrient and hormone dense gel-based growing solutions to trigger development. Throughout this process, temperature, humidity and light are uniformly controlled to ensure consistent results. This precision control over the growing environment can enhance the genetic potential of each cannabis plant to produce a more potent product. Once large enough and ready for trimming, the plant can easily be multiplied into hundreds of identical plant shoots for starter plants that can be placed into a growing environment for production.
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Published: February 03, 2019
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News