Activism

Independent Startup Maps Evolution Of Marijuana Genome Amid Looming Patent War

Phylos Bioscience is working to keep marijuana from being corrupted by competing patents by making the plant's genome publicly available.

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In August of last year, federal officials quietly made history by approving the first patent for a strain of marijuana containing large amounts of THC, its main psychoactive ingredient. Now, with marijuana legalization making huge advances following the US election, many have expressed that last year’s precedent has opened a veritable ‘can of worms’ that could allow massive seed companies like Monsanto to stomp out the competition via patents. The commercialization of marijuana could easily get out of hand in the coming months and years, as the industry’s profits are expected to top $6.7 billion this year despite being legal in only a handful of states. With legal marijuana access now a reality in 20% of the US after the events of this past week, that number is likely to only get bigger while equally likely to spur corporate interest in the industry.

However, an independent startup based in Portland is working to make marijuana’s genome publicly available to lessen the impact of patents and to protect the plant from corporate greed. Phylos Bioscience has launched an online interactive guide that not only maps the marijuana genome, but also its genetic evolution. The mapping of the plant’s evolution protects specific strains of marijuana that are currently part of the public domain from being patented by large biotech companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, and Syngenta. Over the last two years, Phylos Bioscience has collected a variety of sample from different marijuana strains, allowing the startup to sequence the DNA of each unique strain. They then developed a software program that allows that data to be easily visualized. The startup company is calling its pioneering, interactive guide ‘Galaxy.’ Galaxy allows users to view the hereditary sequences of each plant by following connections between a particular plant and its parents and/or offspring. Similar plants are placed close together while larger groups are color-coded into “tribes” based on their region of origin.

Phylos Bioscience’s Galaxy hopes to bring order to the marijuana industry, which is now making the transition to a public, commercial industry despite its beginnings underground. Carolyn White, Sales and Marketing Manager of the company, said that they hope to gather all available genetic data pertaining to marijuana to protect it. She said:

“Sample collection was a huge part of this process. One side was a collaboration with growers, dispensaries and labs to collect modern samples, and the other a process of hunting down ancient landrace strains from all over the world.”

Their search is soon to go mainstream as Phylos has launched a commercial sequencing product, known as “Phylos Genotype” that would enable anyone to send in a sample and have its genes mapped. The sample’s genetic data would then be added to the Galaxy database and the client would receive a detailed analysis of the sequenced data. Thank goodness someone had the foresight to protect this potent plant medicine from big business interests in such an accessible and creative way.

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