Sequencing Cannabis Genetics for IP Protection: 4 Things to Consider

Editor’s Note: This following blog is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Terpenes & Testing Magazine. View the full article

It’s no secret that the cannabis industry is currently facing an IP land grab for highly-prized cannabis genetics. In particular, the Biotech Institute’s patent on all cultivars carrying the genes for both CBDA and THCA production with a specific terpene profile has stirred up quite a bit of controversy amongst cultivators and breeders. There are numerous other patents that have recently issued surrounding highly-coveted cannabis genetics that have many cultivators concerned that their years of hard work developing such cultivars could one day be considered infringement.

Hiring patent attorneys and going through the process of the USPTO can be both extremely time-consuming and costly. Furthermore, there is no guarantee the patent will issue unless the cultivar is truly novel.  

Genetic sequencing can reveal loads of important information about a cultivar including its potential to produce certain cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. The plant’s chemotypic profile has been a key part of cannabis cultivar patents. The only truly reliable and best proxy for this unmeasured chemical complexity in the plant is the plant’s own genome. Using genomics, we can record the chemical potential of the plant beyond today’s chemical technology can measure.

There are a number of cannabis sequencing services on the market, but not all are equal. Here are a few things to consider when sequencing your cannabis genetics for IP protection.

Amount of Data

When it comes to sequencing your cultivar’s genetics for IP purposes, the more data the better. With more data, you can better describe your cultivar and make it harder for anyone else to claim novelty. 

The StrainSEEK® assay is the industry’s largest, sequencing more than 3.5 million bases (Mb) across thousands of high-value targets, including 29 cannabinoid and terpene synthase genes as well as several genes for seed production and sex determination. We also offer whole genome sequencing, which provides cultivators and breeders a data file that contains the strain’s full genetic sequence. You can use that information to identify important genetic markers and determine novelty.

Sequencing Methods

The cannabis genome is highly polymorphic and can carry SNPs as frequently as every 25 base pairs in areas under high selection such as chemotype influencing genes. Therefore a thorough analysis is paramount for producing high-quality data that properly characterizes a cultivars genome. Beware of strain identification and registration services that use single primer sets to characterize given loci as this methodology can fail to amplify one or more of the alleles present and ultimately lead to allele bias and mischaracterization. Furthermore, data that is not reproducible will not hold up in court, therefore, these strain certifications aren’t really a certification.

Comprehensive Reference Genome

When your cultivar comes off the sequencer it’s in 100 million different pieces. Those pieces are then assembled in order, using a reference genome. To put it simply, each piece of DNA is a jigsaw puzzle piece and the reference genome is the picture on the box. Sequencing data is only as good as the reference to which it is compared. Services that use incomplete reference genomes are missing an average of 1 in every 10 genes. This lack of completeness creates gaps in the sequence information that could contain important chemotypic or phenotypic data.  

Publish to the Blockchain

Some sequencing services will publish your cultivar’s genetics to their website or a their own database. But what if those websites and databases are hacked? What if the sequencing company you used goes out of business and takes the website down? Suddenly the public record of your cultivar’s genetics is no longer public.

Due to their decentralized, distributed architecture, blockchains are essentially hack-proof ledgers that aren’t reliant on any one server or one company’s existence. This ensures a public, time-stamped record of your cultivar’s genetics will remain intact.

Finally, you want to make sure your cultivar’s genetic data is on a public database are publishing your cultivar’s genetic information to the blockchain.

Our Approach

At Medicinal Genomics, we have provided an affordable path for cultivators to register their cultivar’s genetics on the blockchain to show prior art. Our StrainSEEK® Strain Identification and Registration Service is the most comprehensive genetic sequencing service in the market, and we are the only company to offer full genome sequencing. We also have assembled the most complete cannabis reference genome, based on the Jamaican Lion cultivar. Finally, we submit an encrypted version of the cultivar’s genetic data file to the DASH blockchain.

You can view all the strains that have been sequenced and submitted to the blockchain on the website. In time, we hope Kannapedia can become the portal through which the public can access the world’s first transparent, secure, blockchained cannabis genetic registry.

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