As Cannabis Market Heats Up, Scientists Race To Build ‘Weed Biofactories’

By Brittany Meiling
The San Diego Union-Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A recent boom in the cannabis industry has driven a need to find cheaper and faster way of getting THC and CBD. As Brittany Meiling reports, whoever figures it out first will have a valuable commodity on their hands.

SAN DIEGO

Scientists are hustling on behalf of the weed industry to find new ways to produce the most valuable compounds in marijuana, ditching greenhouses in favor of big steel vats of yeast that can ‘brew’ cannabis like Budweiser brews beer.

The science, once brought to market, would be a goldmine for those who perfect it, giving two separate industries, pharma and legal weed, stable, potent and cheap sources of the ingredients they need.

Right now, the industry’s two most in-demand ingredients are THC, the compound in marijuana that gets you high, and CBD, another cannabis compound used for its medicinal effect.

Today, we get those compounds by growing weed plants in large greenhouses, then extracting and isolating the active ingredients. It’s a big, dirty and expensive process.

A recent boom in the cannabis industry, however, has driven a need to find cheaper and faster way of getting THC and CBD.

Legal weed in particular has increased demand for products that will appeal to non-smokers. Instead of the traditional lump of dried green “flower,” pot dispensaries are selling everything from oils, foods and drinks infused with THC and CBD.

The food and drink items (called “edibles”) have seen significant growth in recent years, now making up 40 percent of dispensaries’ marijuana sales, according to some estimates. They can’t grow cannabis fast enough, which is why scientists are trying to produce it in labs.

And biotech companies are trying to deliver.

Instead of growing actual plants, these researchers have found a way to get yeast to do the dirty work.

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