Hemp gene-editing advance: Arcadia Speciality Genomics technologies for cultivation spur significant immediate interest
22 Mar 2019 --- Arcadia Speciality Genomics, a strategic business unit of agricultural food ingredient company Arcadia Biosciences, is seeking to bring improved plant quality to cannabis crops by applying its proprietary approach to plant breeding and gene editing. The recent announcement of its foray into the cannabis-space – which has largely been grown unlawfully until recently – has attracted “significant inbound interest from the cannabis industry,” Matt Plavan, President of Arcadia Speciality Genomics, tells NutritionInsight.
Low Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) hemp has recently become legal in the US, spurring a flurry of activity in technology poised toward the cannabis industry. In December, the signing of the US Farm Bill by President Trump legitimized low THC hemp (<0.3 percent Δ9-THC). This regulatory green light increases the NPD scope for the cannabis industry but, as according to the stringent regulation, the hemp must contain a minimal amount of Δ9-THC. If a plant were to test above the 0.3 percent THC mark, the entire crop would have to be terminated.
Gene-editing for hemp?
The fact that hemp was previously considered a schedule one controlled substance and banned as an agricultural crop, means it lacks substantive plant biology research and has suboptimal genetics, highly fragmented germplasm and rampant inconsistencies, Plavan explains.
Arcadia Specialty Genomics will develop novel cannabis varieties possessing productivity, pest resistance and crop quality traits for license to cultivators, and for products serving the nutraceutical and food industries.
These developments are made possible through a proprietary approach combining conventional breeding, Arcadia’s advanced screening and breeding technology known as TILLING and gene editing. Through this process, plant populations carrying desirable, high-value genetic characteristics are identified, isolated and bred to reproduce.
“Our ability to bring innovative traits to the market for some of the most complex plant genomes is unparalleled, and we’re excited to turn our attention and expertise to the critical needs facing the rapidly evolving cannabis industry,” says Plavan.
“Our near-term focus will be acquiring federal and state licensure in key geographies to launch our research and pilot programs, for which we expect to begin operations in early 2019. In parallel, we are evaluating key partnerships to extend our capabilities vertically, maximize shareholder value and establish Arcadia Specialty Genomics as the leading science-driven company and genetics innovator for cannabis,” he adds.
Arcadia Biosciences, Inc.develops and markets high-value food ingredients and nutritional oils, while Arcadia Speciality Genomics hopes to leverage its parent company’s capabilities to deliver crop innovation using proprietary methods.
Arcadia’s GoodWheat branded ingredients, for example, deliver health benefits to consumers and “enable consumer packaged goods companies to differentiate their brands in the marketplace,” the company notes. Last year, the company added reduced gluten (RG) wheat lines to the GoodWheat portfolio.
What's happening in US cannabis industry?
Hemp’s newly legal status creates significant market opportunities for a company such as Arcadia, which touts itself as being known for agronomic innovation. “As we’ve evolved from an agricultural trait provider to a functional ingredient seller, we’ve developed capabilities and partnerships which will drive innovation and growth in hemp-derived oils such as CBD and other functional plant properties,” says Plavan.
“As with our wheat and soybean products, we will create hemp-based solutions that allow farmers to be more productive and enable consumer packaged goods companies to differentiate their brands in the marketplace,” he explains.
The Hemp Business Journal estimates that the hemp CBD market totaled US$190 million in 2018 – an astounding rate of growth for a category that didn’t exist five years ago. By 2022, the Brightfield Group, a cannabis and CBD market research firm, projects sales to reach US$22 billion.
The rapidly growing hemp/CBD market segment has attracted attention a lot of attention recently. Earlier this month, sustainable ingredients company Amyris revealed LAVVAN as its partner in a US$300 million deal for the development of a fermented cannabinoid.
The March edition of The World of Food Ingredients includes detailed coverage of the US cannabis landscape, as informed by George Burdock, President of the safety and regulatory consulting firm, Burdock Group Consultants.
The legalization of hemp was a significant move from the US government, Burdock notes, but it did not require much regulatory heavy lifting.
“The FDA must have been aware that many small companies have been using hemp seed flour and oil, as well as other products, for several years. Many of these products were openly displayed at trade shows for the past ten years, or even longer,” he says.
The government move would also have been enough to please both sides of the charged US political spectrum. The level of THC included in the ruling was so minimal that even the most conservative politician could support it, yet still talk about drug control in the US. While it is also a win for marijuana advocates, who have been advocating on the topic for years.
The ushering in of hemp as a legal ingredient also raises questions as to whether the other popular cannabis derivative – cannabidiol (CBD) – will also gain legal status in the future.
Plavan concludes that “we know Congress has recently put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to announce its intentions and provide guidance to the market and there are pending guidelines for the regulation of CBD human consumption. At this stage, we believe businesses selling hemp infused foods or ingestibles containing health claims are at potential risk of FDA action until guidelines are published.”
By Laxmi Haigh
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