Can Triploid Genetics Be The Game Changer For The Cannabis Industry?

Can Triploid Genetics Be The Game Changer For The Cannabis Industry?

I cover the cannabis industry with a focus on Europe.

The cultivation of triploid genetics could be the game changer for the cannabis industry, as it promises to deliver higher THC levels, larger yields, faster growth, and seedless flowers.

The application of triploids is not a new concept in agriculture. Consuming seedless fruit generally enhances the eating experience for most people.

Consider bananas, for instance. Bananas lack seeds because the parent banana tree is triploid, even though pollination normally occurs.

Typically, species with a chromosome set number divisible by two can produce seeds, while those with uneven sets of chromosomes are either sterile or do not produce seeds.

What Is Triploid Cannabis?

Cannabis is a diploid plant characterized by having two chromosomes. However, certain rare organisms possess multiple chromosomes. In such cases, cannabis plants can naturally develop with three chromosomes, making them triploids. During cell division, genetic material is copied, with the new cell inheriting the copied chromosomes while the original cell retains the original set. Treating a cannabis plant with a natural chemical disrupts mitosis, leading to the creation of extra chromosomes without cell division. Consequently, the original diploid cell becomes triploid or, in other cases, tetraploid (four chromosomes), pentaploid (five chromosomes), and so forth.

This phenomenon has, in recent years, piqued the interest of growers who are deliberately breeding triploid cannabis. They typically start with a standard diploid plant, select a high-performing clone, and then apply a natural chemical that interferes with the cell division process.

The ability to cultivate high-quality cannabis at a faster rate with larger yields may become a game changer for both professional and amateur growers. While the cultivation of triploid cannabis appears to be still a niche in the cannabis space, this method might become widely adopted and normalized, much like in the fruit and vegetable industries, across both commercial and home cultivation settings.

Benefits Of Triploid Cannabis

There are several reasons why triploid cannabis can innovate cannabis cultivation. This breeding method improves cultivation and consumption performance by introducing more chromosomes, offering a wider range of traits.

Triploid cannabis breeding increases yield and potency, with potential benefits such as shorter flowering times and higher biomass, and helps growers prioritize preventing pollination of female flowers in cannabis production to maintain essential oil yield. This is crucial because seeds are undesirable in the trimmed flower market, and triploid cannabis itself is seedless.

Benjamin Lind, co-founder and chief science officer at Humboldt Seed Company, which has recently developed two triploid cannabis strains, explained that the market size for triploid cannabis could be promising as it seems to unlock potential in cannabis cultivation.

"[Triploid cannabis] is allowing growers in new regions to cultivate cannabis outdoors due to its shorter flowering time. This attracts both outdoor growers, who can harvest before winter, and indoor growers, who can fit in more cycles. The condensed flowering time, reducing by about ten days to two weeks, appeals to the market. One variety has already sold out, showing high demand." he said.

From the consumer's perspective, triploid cannabis strains offer higher THC levels and improve other characteristics of the cannabis profile.

"I think always the promise of more THC potency is what's really driving some consumers, but also the increase in sustainability. From a carbon footprint perspective, you can grow more cannabis with fewer inputs. So you can use less water, less fertilizer, and fewer insecticides need to be applied to the plants," Lind said.

Therefore, adding an extra chromosome significantly expands the cannabis genome, leading to the emergence of new flavors and expressions. Triploids exhibit increased levels of minor cannabinoids and terpenes, providing novel possibilities for cannabis breeding. Interestingly – Lind explains – triploid plants feature trichomes with taller stalks and denser clusters, although the mechanism behind this remains unknown.

The Impact Of Triploid Cannabis On The Environment

However, the cultivation of triploid cannabis may have several implications.

Sarah Carter, communications director at Symple Seeds, explained the widespread adoption of triploid cannabis cultivation presents various environmental considerations.

"While sterile triploid plants can address concerns like pollen contamination and unwanted seed production, benefiting large-scale growers and those aiming to prevent fertilization, there are concerns about their overall environmental impact. Limited research suggests triploid plants may require more water and nutrients, potentially increasing the ecological footprint," she said.

However, Lind said that triploid cannabis plants grow faster, resulting in quicker vegetative and flowering stages, condensing the entire life cycle from seed to harvest. This time-saving approach might translate into reduced fertilizer and water usage. Additionally, these plants exhibit natural resistance and increased drought tolerance, possibly due to deeper and larger roots. They are also genetically more resistant to various pests, reducing the need for spraying insecticides and fungicides, thus promoting sustainable cultivation practices.

‘The Mule Of The Cannabis World’

Since triploid plants are unlikely to produce seeds, Lind refers to them as "mules of the cannabis world," given their ability to combine the best attributes of different parents within what he calls a "genetic cul-de-sac."

Carter, however, explained that the manipulation of cannabis genetics through triploid breeding introduces considerations about its long-term effects on biodiversity and sustainability.

"While triploids could offer benefits in terms of potency, resistance, and vigor if bred appropriately, there are concerns about unintended consequences. Genetic manipulation might lead to the creation of invasive species or strains with undesirable traits, requiring careful assessment to minimize negative ecological impacts," she said.

Lind assures that there will always be a need for diploid cannabis because a parent plant is required to produce triploid plants. Therefore, triploid genetics won't eliminate diploids, as triploids are unsuitable for breeding.

Carter highlighted that the success of triploid cannabis cultivation ultimately lies in the expertise of the breeder and the selection of stable genetics.

"Proper breeding practices, using suitable parent plants, and focusing on the desired traits are essential to ensure the effectiveness of triploid breeding and minimize any potential negative consequences," she said.

While the market size and understanding of triploid cannabis have yet to reach mainstream levels, more growers are gaining knowledge of breeding methods, and some companies have begun selling triploid cannabis seeds.

However, scientific research on triploid cannabis remains limited and should be encouraged, especially to evaluate its long-term sustainability and environmental and biodiversity impact.

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