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DNA Testing Could Help Hemp Growers Save on Time, Costs and Labor

A California-based genetics company has developed a proprietary test it claims will identify with 99.9 percent accuracy the gender of a hemp plant in as little as two weeks after germination.

Like humans, Cannabis sativa, the herbaceous flowering annual that is grown for anything from industrial fiber to recreational drugs, carries sex chromosomes that manifest in male or female characteristics. (Though monoecious varieties that have male and female flowers on the same plant exist, hemp varieties are, for the most part, what scientists describe as dioecious.) For both hemp and marijuana cultivators, female flowers are more desirable because they produce significantly higher amounts of cannabinoids than their male counterparts. The failure to remove male plants before they pollinate their female neighbors risks turning those coveted buds into less-lucrative seeds.

“For CBD, you want all female plants,” Guy Carpenter, president of Bear Fiber, told Sourcing Journal.  “You don’t want them to be pollinated because that will often lower the amount of CBD and will likely produce seeds, which will create more input for extractors and reduce the amount of marketable cannabinoids, therefore reducing the farmers’ payout.” Conversely, the occasion may arise where male plants, which are weedier and less robust, are the preferred type—for instance, when a variety is cultivated exclusively for its fiber rather than fiber and CBD. “Male plants tend to yield more and better fiber,” Carpenter added.

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While it can take more than five weeks after germination to learn a cannabis plant’s gender, LeafWorks says its DNA-based Gender ID test needs just 14 days, saving growers time, resources, labor and anywhere between $13,000 to $50,000 per harvest. Not only does the test kit eliminate the margin of human error, the company says, but it’s also easy to use, requiring just five minutes to prepare a DNA sample for dispatching in the mail.

“Our DNA technology is game-changing for the cannabis and herbal industries,” Kerin Law, chief scientific officer at LeafWorks, said in a statement. “LeafWorks aims to provide accessible next-generation science to cannabis and botanical producers so they can grow their businesses, reduce potential for costly fraud and provide consumers with the information they need to make confident choices as they turn to medicinal plants for mental and physical health.”

LeafWorks has other hemp-based innovations coming down the pipeline. The company is putting the finishing touches on a cannabis Cultivar ID Test, which it says will provide the cannabis industry cultivar name verification “from the only vetted test on the market” and track strains from seed to sale. A quick test for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels, which determine whether a cannabis plant is classified as industrial hemp or marijuana, is also forthcoming, a LeafWorks representative said. (To qualify as hemp under U.S. government standards, a plant must contain less than 0.3 percent THC.)