Israeli start-up claims it can make cannabis plants resistant to powdery mildew

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CanBreed, an start-up based in Israel, is reporting the company has used CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to make the cannabis plant resistant to potentially deadly powdery mildew. Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard hold the rights to the technology.

The start-up’s research and development team — which includes geneticists, molecular biologists and agronomists — “edited a gene that expresses a protein responsible for creating sensitivity to powdery mildew infection,” CanBreed CEO Ido Margalit told The Times of Israel.

The editing means the protein is not expressed, thereby potentially creating a plant that is resistant to the fungus, Margalit explained.

“Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that affects a wide variety of plants. There are many different species of powdery mildew, and each species attacks a range of different plants,” notes The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Air sanitation company AiroClean420 calls powdery mildew “one of the most serious threats to cannabis crops, and one of the most common diseases faced by growers.” If left untreated,the article reports that “it can destroy your whole crop in less than a week.”

For the Israeli start-up, the next step is to start working with scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to prove the gene-edited plants are truly resistant to the fungus. Once that’s achieved, the idea is to commercially sell cannabis seeds offering the beneficial trait, which has been patented, perhaps by the end of next year.

The new plants could lead to a “standardization of the industry,” Margalit told The Times of Israel, by allowing for uniform plants that can be grown both efficiently and repetitively.

Since cannabis is used for medicinal purposes in Israel, using fungicides is not permitted, he points out.

Researchers also expect to explore how gene-editing can help to enhance other traits of the cannabis plant.

Canadian researchers are also looking into powdery mildew. In fact, researchers at the University of British Columbia have been awarded $4.2 million in funding to study enhanced cannabis cultivars, with a particular focus on disease resistance. The work is being done in partnership with Aurora Cannabis.

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