Cannabis has been illegal for a long time, but things started changing at the end of the 20th century, giving way to quick and active cannabis industry development. Due to the recent advancements in genetic engineering and breeding, cannabis also underwent a series of manipulations to simplify growing, speed up yield collection, and improve the overall grower experience. However, even though thousands of growers take advantage of the genetic breeding science’s gains, few understand what’s behind weed breeding. This article sheds light on the process and explains the science behind strain development and crossbreeding in simple terms.
Why Engage in Cannabis Breeding?
The first question that naturally emerges among cannabis growers and consumers is – why engage in the costly and challenging process of new breed development if we already have several cannabis varieties? Users who want a cerebral high can choose marijuana as a THC-rich weed variant, while those with medicinal needs seeking CBD treatment can opt for hemp. The answer is in the combination of weed features and maximization of the weed types’ advantages; breeding usually seeks to combine several weed types to take the best from the two worlds. With the help of breeding, cultivators improve the following characteristics:
- Desirable cannabinoid profiles
- High cultivar productivity
- Pest resistance
- Quick life cycle
- Resistance to cold temperatures
- The strain’s general vigor and health
- Specific characteristics, like THC richness, aroma, and flavor
Gains of the Modern Breeding Process
Due to the advancements in genetic engineering, modern weed seeds can be widely manipulated to create cultivars with the desired set of properties and the desired sex and independence on the light cycle. The two major achievements in the breeding process are feminized and autoflower weed seeds:
- Feminized. This seed type is guaranteed to develop into a female plant, which takes the guesswork and careful monitoring of the plants’ gender out of the growing process. In most cases, growers want to reap the flavorful, therapeutically beneficial flowers from their weed plantations, so they need to avoid pollination at all costs. Feminized seeds make this process hassle-free, as the planting of feminized seeds guarantees a female plantation in 99.99% of cases. The seeds’ gender is identified in the lab conditions, with only female seeds placed into the seed package you buy.
- Autoflower. The discovery of Ruderalis weed has brought another opportunity into the cannabis cultivation industry: the ability to make plants independent from the light-and-darkness cycle. Cannabis plants are mostly photoperiod in nature, and feminized seeds (though offering the benefit of the female gender) are also photoperiod. This means that the plants need to experience a change in the light-and-dark cycle (which usually happens in autumn) to start flowering. This change is easy to arrange in the indoor setup, where the grower assumes total control of the growing environment. Things get more complicated in the outdoor growing setup, where the cultivators do not affect the amount of sunlight. Thus, they need to wait for autumn to come and then spend a couple more weeks until the flowers mature. With autoflower seeds, the problem ceases to exist as these seeds develop into plants that start flowering without sunlight changes. That’s a huge relief for growers living in colder regions who frequently need to find a balance between the maturity of buds and premature harvesting because of early frosts.
Weed Strain Breeding
Another major advantage of breeding is the ability to combine various weed types’ traits in a single cultivar. For instance, when you buy Pineapple Express Autoflower https://askgrowers.com/seeds/pineapple-express-seeds-autoflower, you get an Indica-dominant strain with a gentle calming effect and high THC content typical for Sativa.
In the same way, strains with Sativa-dominant characteristics but with the presence of Indica genes are created to give users a sizable mood improvement and creativity boost but with a gentle, soothing effect on the body instead of undesirable over-stimulation for some categories of patients. Overall, the science of breeding has made it possible to create hybrids for every use case, depending on the consumers’ medical needs and expected effects.
Look for Strains with Stable Genetics
When you dive deeper into the subject of weed hybrids, you may often come across the term “genetic stability.” A genetically stable strain means that you will get weed with the same set of characteristics every time you plant it, and there will be no genotype variability across the weed’s generations. It seems complicated at first, but in fact, there’s no rocket science behind the concept. Here’s what you should know:
- Genes are usually paired, meaning every plant has two copies of the same gene. Since weed is a dioecious plant, the new strain’s genes consist of 50% of the mother plant’s genes and 50% of the father plant’s genes. The formula is as follows:
AA + BB = AB
- If the plant has identical parents (with AA and AA genes), its genotype will be identical (AA).
- If the plant’s parents come from different strains with homozygotic genes (AA and BB), the genotype of the child plant will change (AB).
- However, things get more complicated with hybrids, as their genotypes are usually compounds of several parent strains (e.g., combining a plant with a heterozygotic AB genotype and CD genotype can give several outcomes – AC, AD, BC, and BD).
- The task of breeders is, therefore, to ensure they choose plants with homozygotic genes so that the outcome of breeding gets more predictable and stable.
This is exactly the job of breeders who work on the strains in isolated indoor setups and pollinate female plants with male pollen of specific genetic profiles to increase the degree of homozygosis and reduce the genetic bandwidth of a species of interest. Only after the genetic stability is attained, the strain is considered ready for crossbreeding with a predictable outcome that really works.
Science at Your Service
As you can see, the science of cannabis breeding is developing fast to respond to user needs and diversify the variety of cannabis options in the market. Some consumers need extra high THC doses to address nausea and pain; others want more CBD but also long for gentle stimulating effects of low THC concentrations. The role of terpenes and flavonoids is also pronounced in the weed varieties, so genetic engineers can finally give users exactly what they want, with no undesirable side effects and repercussions.
The author of this article is Denys Svirepchuk, an expert in the cannabis industry and a full-time contributor to the AskGrowers blog. Denys is passionate about cannabis technology and works hard to share innovations and achievements in this field with users. His mission and lifetime goal is to make cannabis more understandable for people who need this herbal remedy but are still in doubt about its safety and legality.