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This month’s Women of Weed Council meeting was a huge success, due largely to our passionate and eloquent guest speaker, evolutionary biologist Dr. Daniela Vergara. The first floor boardroom of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce (C4) was once again at capacity as the meeting started, and Dr. Vergara opened with a brief but illuminating history of the science of evolutionary biology. She explained to us the important role genomic research plays in understanding the cannabis plant, and pointed out that although cannabis has a long history of use, its federally illegal status means very little university level research has been conducted on the plant itself.

In fact, we know more about breeding fruit flies then we do about growing cannabis.

Dr. Vergara explained the importance of understanding cannabis by referencing her work at Indiana University, where she and fellow researchers collected and maintained the world’s largest fruit fly stock center. We looked at her with puzzled faces when she explained that this meant anyone in the world looking for fruit flies with big wings and extra hairy legs (or tiny wings or extra hairs on the head…) could contact the university and find (1) wherein the fruit fly DNA those features are expressed and (2) how those strains should be crossed for the most desirable offspring. They could be provided a vial of DNA that would create that exact fruit fly with those exact characteristics, and could explain to you the other traits that would characterize the fly once it matured.

But what does this have to do with cannabis?

Everything! Dr. Vergara and her colleagues at the Cannabis Genomic Research Initiative (CGRI) believe cannabis strain data should be so fully understood, that one day a grower could contact a cannabis repository wanting a low THC, purple plant that grows tall and – just like with the fruit flies – find exactly what they’re looking for.

.. So what’s holding us back?

Cannabis Research and Restrictions on Science

The Cannabis Genomic Research Initiative exists within the University of Colorado (the lab itself is located on the CU Boulder campus), an affiliation that brings credibility, protection, tons of great resources… and a lot of regulations.

For instance, since the lab is accessible to undergraduate students, the researchers are unable to grow samples with more than .3% THC – so the team relies heavily on sample donations. This in itself is pretty frustrating, but the real problem is one commonly faced by anyone participating in the cannabis industry – funding.

The University has prohibited donations from any federal illegal business, meaning the CGRI can’t directly fundraise from the private businesses with the largest vested interest in seeing the research completed. To keep her work alive, Dr. Veraga has created the Agricultural Genomic Foundation, a non-profit organization (open to donations from all!) that works alongside CGRI to “support the farming and medical communities” by establishing a genomic repository from different cannabis strains, in addition to a photographic repository from leaves of different cannabis strains.

Without creative solutions to the complicated fundraising issue – labs and their equipment are expensive, and funding is limited – especially in this space – Dr. Vergara won’t be able to continue her work.

So how can we help!?

Moved by her honesty and passion, many in the room offered fundraising support and ideas. The conversation quickly turned to the ways C4 and its members can help the Cannabis Genomic Research Initiative, but it will take the work of many to help keep the science behind cannabis maturing with our industry. If you’re interested in CGRI and how you can make a difference, we encourage you to reach out to Dr. Daniela Vergara at daniela.vergara@colorado.edu


 

This month’s WOW meeting celebrated the progress being made as academic institutions inch closer and closer to fully accepting the importance of cannabis research and coming together to invest in the knowledge that will truly catapult this industry into an era of innovation and fuel entrepreneurship, while bringing us back to the ongoing questions of funding and scaling a cannabis business in light of the federal restrictions. Looking to get involved? Sign up for updates at thewomenofweedcouncil.com, or leave us a note in the comments below.

 

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