The marijuana plant contains over one-hundred cannabinoid components. Besides being known for their mind-altering capabilities, cannabinoids, such as THC and cannabidiolic acid, can help patients to increase their appetite, reduce nausea, and decrease pain, inflammation and muscle control problems.

What we know about cannabinoids is still very little. The study of medical properties of cannabinoids is limited both by legal restrictions in the plant’s cultivation, Cannabis sativa, and by the large amounts of the plant needed to obtain sufficient components to study in the lab. Besides, cannabinoids have complex molecular structures which difficult their chemical synthesis in the lab.

The need to get these cannabinoids quickly and in large quantities drove researchers of the University of Berkeley to think of artificial synthesis. The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisae, which is usually used in the production of beer, was the chosen vehicle of production. With a few modifications, including the insertion of a Cannabis gene and a strict diet of sugar, the yeast was able to turn a natural sugar – galactose – into THC, the main cannabinoid produced by Cannabis sativa, and other elements like cannabidiolic acid.

The engineering of yeast strains to produce cannabinoids was published on February 27, in a report for the Nature journal. The team hopes to set the foundation for the cheap, large-scale fermentation of cannabinoids, and expand the range of components that the strain can produce.

Luo, Xiaozhou, et al. “Complete Biosynthesis of Cannabinoids and Their Unnatural Analogues in Yeast.Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 27 Feb. 2019,

More about Cannabinoids:
Jonathan Andrew Farrimond, et al Cannabis sativa and the endogenous cannabinoid system: therapeutic potential for appetite regulation. Phytotherapy Research, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, <10.1002/ptr.3375>. (OPEN ACCESS)
Coulston, Carissa M., et al. “Cannabinoids for the treatment of schizophrenia? A balanced neurochemical framework for both adverse and therapeutic effects of cannabis use.” Schizophrenia research and treatment 2011 (2010). (OPEN ACCESS)
Delmàs, Marta Durán, and Dolors Capellà Hereu. “Uso terapéutico de los cannabinoides.” Adicciones 16.2 (2004): 143-152. [Abstract in English] (OPEN ACCESS)

Image Credit:
My 420 Tours [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I joined United Academics team in 2015, during my Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences, at the VU Amsterdam. By that time, I was starting to realize that, more than planning scientific experiments, I was interested in understanding how science evolved and where it is going. After joining United Academics, it became clearer that open access must be the path for science advancement. In 2016, I became United Academics's editor-in-chief.


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