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Scientists find the genes that give marijuana its flavor

"The limonene compound produces a lemon-like flavor and myrcene produces the dank, earthy flavor characteristic of purple kush," grad student Judith Booth explained.

By Brooks Hays
Scientists find the genes that give marijuana its flavor
Researchers in Canada have identified the genes responsible for the cannabis plant's different flavors, information they say is increasingly important for people in the marijuana industry trying to standardize varieties and growing methods. Photo by Atomazul/Shutterstock

March 29 (UPI) -- Scientists at the University of British Columbia have figured out which genes give cannabis strains their unique flavors. For pot growers, identifying and breeding for certain qualities -- like citrusy, skunky or earthy flavors -- is crucial.

"The goal is to develop well-defined and highly-reproducible cannabis varieties," Jörg Bohlmann, a professor of forestry at UBC, explained in a news release. "This is similar to the wine industry, which depends on defined varieties such as chardonnay or merlot for high value products. Our genomics work can inform breeders of commercial varieties which genes to pay attention to for specific flavor qualities."

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Bohlmann and his colleagues analyzed the genome sequences of pot varieties and identified 30 terpene synthase genes key in the control of the plant's flavor profile. The genes control the production of fragrant molecules like limonene, myrcene and pinene -- molecules known in the cannabis industry as terpenes.

"The limonene compound produces a lemon-like flavor and myrcene produces the dank, earthy flavor characteristic of purple kush," grad student Judith Booth explained.

The researchers were also able to identify the genes responsible for marijuana's signature smell, the terpene known as beta-caryophyllene.

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Researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

As the marijuana industry matures and prepares to operate as a regulated, legal market, growers are working to develop more standardized varieties and growing methods. Bohlmann thinks his researcher can help.

"There is a need for high-quality and consistent products made from well defined varieties." he said.

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