Yeast may be used in other areas of industry rather than only for production of food and alcohol; soon we might use it to “get high” or create medicine based on THC, CBD and other cannabinoids that are hard to extract from plant as they are found in small quantities. Key to this lies in a small fungus better known as “brewer’s yeast” or Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Prohibition on Marijuana and THC limited number of scientific researches on this subject, availability of these substances is small as they are found in traces when it comes to natural production in plants; massive production of Cannabis plants requires the use of pesticides and fertilizers additionally damaging the environment. This is why these new findings of GM (genetically modified) yeast might help in therapeutic, medicinal and environmental friendly research, also cannabinoids may be produced in bigger batches that might cause number of researches to rise. Yeast feeds only on sugar so this type of production is cheap as well.
Jay Keasling, a UC Berkeley professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of bioengineering and a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said:
"For the consumer, the benefits are high-quality, low-cost CBD and THC: you get exactly what you want from yeast… It is a safer, more environmentally friendly way to produce cannabinoids."
What is the connection between cannabis and yeast?
With the development of Genetic engineering (GE) and Genetic modification (GM) scientists have been able to modify yeast and it genes; where new type of GE yeast now contains same genes as ones found in cannabis. These types of researches are not new. Previous studies have been conducted and published on this subject. Engineering yeasts as platform organisms for cannabinoid biosynthesis. and Production of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid from cannabigerolic acid…are some of them, but this is the first study that has complete biosynthesis explained; findings were published in Nature by Keasling, the Philomathia Foundation Chair in Alternative Energy at Berkeley with his colleagues on 27th of February.
Cite from the research
Here we report the complete biosynthesis of the major cannabinoids cannabigerolic acid, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, cannabidiolic acid, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarinic acid and cannabidivarinic acid in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, from the simple sugar galactose.
How does it work?
Key is to trick its metabolism so that they for example, instead of turning sugar into alcohol, they convert sugar into other chemicals that are latter introduced to enzymes which turn them into other products like THCA which is then secreted as a liquid in surrounding. They ended up putting in more than ten types of genes into yeast; most of which were copies of genes used by the Cannabis plant to synthesize cannabinoids.
Issue found in the studies before and this one was that the enzyme that is crucial in making CBGA(Cannabigerolic acid) in marijuana plant did not work in yeast. Instead of finding a synthetic solution, Berkeley postdoc Leo d’Espaux and graduate student Jeff Wong have isolated prenyl transferase, enzyme found in Cannabis plant and putted it into yeast. (This step was the missing link, up until today) Easy part was to introduce enzyme that is going to transform CBGA into THCA and a different one to create CBDA. They also added enzymes to produce CBDV (cannabidivarin) and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), cannabinoids that are not that well documented whose effects are not that studied.
Interestingly, there are more benefits in this kind of production as yeast produces its own cannabinoids that are not found naturally in the plant, J. Keasling adds:
“The possibility of new therapies based on novel cannabinoids: the rare ones that are nearly impossible to get from the plant, or the unnatural ones, which are impossible to get from the plant.”
This type of yeast transforms fatty acids into cannabinoids, something that does not naturally occur. It is basis for the production of unnatural and natural cannabinoids, it will cause more studies of these compounds to be done and expand the development of treating different human problems while keeping the environment less polluted on contrary to regular farming. This means that cannabinoid might join the list with other chemicals that are produced using yeast, human growth hormone and insulin are just some of them.
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