Researchers are brewing cannabinoids with microorganisms by genetically modifying yeast and amoeba. Turns out there has been a drive for some time now to find alternative ways to synthesize cannabinoids. The cannabinoids THC and CBD have been produced by the plant in large enough quantities to be isolated and studied. However, this is not the case for some of the lesser-known cannabinoids. New cannabinoids continue to unveil themselves in ever-so-tiny quantities in the cannabis plant. The first step in studying the potential medicinal benefits of these compounds is to find a way to synthesize them. That’s where “brewing” comes in. Both amoeba and yeast show potential to be genetically modified such that they produce cannabinoids “naturally”.
Gingo Bioworks Brewing Cannabinoids with Yeast
In 2018, the company Gingko Bioworks released a statement about their endeavors to brew cannabinoids using genetically modified yeast. This is quite an undertaking and will likely take many years of research. Gingko claims that they will “be working to develop strains of yeast that can produce eight different cannabinoids.” in partnership with Cronos Group. Notably Cronos has been struggling to “launch”, so we’ll be curious to hear any updates on this endeavor.
Leibniz Institute Brewing Cannabinoids with Amoeba
That’s why we found it interesting that a group in Germany is using a different approach: amoeba. The research group is from the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology-Hans Knöll Institute (Leibniz-HKI) in Jena, Germany. In taking a closer look at the genes in the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, Ph.D. student Christin Reimer noticed that “some show high similarity to plant biosynthetic genes”. So far, the group has been able to synthesize olivetolic acid, a precursor to THC, using the D. discoideum species.
More Research Needed
There are still efforts underway to get the amoeba to produce the final product, THC, but likely two more enzymes need to be inserted into the genome of the amoeba first. Reimer states that “Through our research, we have shown that the amoeba Dictyostelium can be used as a biotechnological production platform for polyketide-based natural products”.
This could be great news for those looking to explore the medicinal benefits of additional cannabinoids. We would much rather have microorganisms synthesizing our cannabinoids than humans in a lab. THCV, for example, doesn’t grow in very high quantities in the plant. Brewing THCV, either using the amoeba approach in Germany or the yeast approach in Boston, could provide it in high enough quantities for continued medical research.