Published: September 21st, 2015
Yeast is an amazing and versatile organism that plays an essential role within human society. This plucky bacteria is to thank for making our bread rise and our booze, well, boozy. It has been used for centuries to this end, and has helped us thrive. Now in the age of modern science, yeast has become a lot more versatile, and thanks to genetic engineering, it can be used for all kinds of new purposes. Only a few months ago scientists made a strain of yeast that was able to create a cleaner version of the traditional poppy-derived opiates. The latest application of yeast delves into the realm of cannabis, as scientists genetically program it to produce THC, the main psychoactive compound found within the plant.
The initial thought on hearing this news may be “great! THC infused beer on the way!”. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case – although beer can be infused with cannabis by other means. The real application of this new method of creating THC is more research based. As things stand, it is pretty hard for scientists to do research on cannabis and the cannabinoids within it. The illicit status of the plant creates a lot of roadblocks and red tape to wade through. Being able to produce THC in a lab makes it much more accessible – as though THC is still illegal, it cuts the plant out of the equation.
THE FUTURE OF CANNABIS BASED MEDICINE?
Currently, the yeast can only produce very small amounts of THC in very specific conditions. However, now that the German research team behind this have made the initial discovery, they hope to build upon it to make the THC-production of yeast even more efficient than cannabis itself.
This in turn opens the door to more cannabinoid based medicine within the future. There is the strong argument that the plant, which is cheap and easy to grow, doesn't need a replacement, certainly not by one that will eventually fall into the hands of pharmaceuticals – and we would agree. However, anything that puts cannabinoids into the hands of people who need it should not be stopped. Plus, as THC becomes more accessible to labs, more comprehensive research will be done showing just what cannabis and the cannabinoids it contains are capable of – hopefully making things a little bit easier for the legalization movement.
For now, THC-producing yeast is in its infancy and is unlikely to develop to the point where it becomes superior to cannabis anytime soon. According to Dr Jonathan Page, a professor involved in the breakthrough, Right now, we have a plant that essentially the Ferrari of the plant world when it comes to producing the chemical of interest. Cannabis is hard to beat.” He is right there! Nothing will beat cannabis, the unique blend of cannabinoids it contains. Remember, it's not all just about THC!