by Jay Syrmopoulos
April 27, 2016
A pioneering biotechnology startup has
launched an online interactive guide that maps the genetic evolution
of the cannabis genome, allowing for specific strains of marijuana
that are already in the public domain a form of protection from
patenting by large biotech firms
such as Monsanto.
After two years of collecting samples,
sequencing the plant's DNA and developing the software to allow for
a 3-D visualization of the collected data, the company was ready to
unveil their long-awaited project.
"Sample collection was a huge part of this
process," Carolyn White, Sales and
Marketing Manager at
Phylos Bioscience told the
"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 Portland company, fittingly on 4/20,
went online with its interactive guide, which the company calls
According to a report in
The New York Times:
The resulting visualization will
offer anyone the ability to easily travel in cyberspace through
a three-dimensional projection of the genetic information drawn
from sequencing samples of the plant, which is increasingly
being legalized for medical and recreational use in states
throughout the country…
Phylos has created a colorful 3-D
map that visually represents the statistical relationships
between different breeds of the plant.
The company hopes that having
genetic information easily available will help bring order to a
business that began underground and is now making a commercial
Over time, the scientists believe,
this sort of visual map can be applied to other types of plants,
or even to animals.
While there are a number of other
companies that offer various services in identification and
cataloging, none offer actual DNA sequencing, which provides an
unparalleled level of accuracy.
According to a report in the
With the Galaxy, users can view the
hereditary sequence of each plant by following lines that
connect strains to their genetic parent or offspring.
Similar plants are located close to
each other, while color groups the plants into "tribes" based on
"We've collected samples from all over the
world, and cataloged the genetic information encoded in
their DNA," Dr. Holmes, Phylos's
chief science officer and molecular and evolutionary
In addition to being a co-founder of
Phylos Bioscience, told the NY Times, relating the DNA
sequencing to an actual bar code in terms of identification and
evolutionary relationship relative to other samples.
The data could theoretically help
protect the intellectual property rights of growers from potential
big business interests, such as Monsanto, from gaining a patent
foothold in the growing industry.
Due to the social media attention given
to the subject, Monsanto has attempted to refute any interest in
producing GMO cannabis, posting on their website that the companies
reported interest in GMO marijuana is nothing more than "an Internet
Additionally, on April 25, Monsanto
spokeswoman Charla Lord told the Willamette Week that the company
will not be getting involved in the marijuana business.
"Monsanto has not, is not and has no plans for
working on cultivating cannabis,"
Lord told WW.
Contrary to the public statements by
Lord, Carolyn White says that he expects companies like
Monsanto will attempt to eventually patent cannabis.
"We think Big Pharma and Big Ag will be the
primary audience after patents, and it will likely require
writing new DNA in to the plant,"
White told WW.
"None of the folks at Phylos really see patenting as a viable
tool for the average breeder."
Phylos looks to assist in pushing more
data into the public domain as a hedge against patenting by large
bio-agribusiness as information in the public domain can't be
patented after one year.
"You can't patent anything that's been in the
public domain longer than a year,"
White told WW.
"We set out to bring more knowledge and transparency to the
industry and that's still what we're doing."
The next step for the innovative company
is the launch of a commercial sequencing product to allow for anyone
to send in a sample to Phylos and have it sequenced.
The sample would be placed into the
Galaxy, with the customer being given a detailed analysis of the
strains sequenced data.