The New York Times wouldn’t call it “soylent green buffalo,” but I would. Picture, if you would, vats of yeast engineered to give off THC, cannabidiol and other compounds from marijuana:
“This is something that could literally change the lives of millions of people,” said Kevin Chen, the chief executive of Hyasynth Bio, a company working to create yeasts that produce THC and cannabidiol, another marijuana compound of medicinal interest.
In a paper published this month in the journal Biotechnology Letters, biochemists at the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany reported that they had engineered a strain of yeast that produces THC. They also have unpublished data to show they succeeded in creating a yeast strain that can make cannabidiol.
Both yeasts rely on so-called precursor molecules — not simple sugars, which would be ideal — and can produce only small amounts of THC and cannabidiol. But Oliver Kayser, a biochemist at the university, hopes that he can eventually engineer the yeast to replicate the full THC-production pathway and has teamed with THC Pharm of Frankfurt to try to scale the processes for industrial production.
European regulators, he said, are eager for a way to create a steady supply of THC and other cannabinoids without actually cultivating marijuana.
“Right now, we have a plant that is essentially the Ferrari of the plant world when it comes to producing the chemical of interest,” Dr. [Jonathan] Page[, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia] said. “Cannabis is hard to beat.”
For this reason, he and his company also hope to use yeast to make chemicals found in trace amounts in cannabis that have shown early promise as potential medicines. These include cannabidivarin, which has prevented seizures in preliminary rodent studies, and tetrahydrocannabivarin, which may be an anti-inflammatory, among other uses.