EP 3: Molecular Genetics – CJ Schwartz

In this episode we chat with CJ Schwartz from Industrial Hemp Genetics. CJ talks with us about plant molecular genetics, and how studying microbiology helps him use plant DNA to predict and craft specific phenotypes.

Our hosts for this episode are Reed Preston, founder of Preston Hemp Co, and Dana Mosman, co-founder of Triminator.


Transcript

Reed Preston: Welcome to the Own Your Harvest podcast. This is our third episode of our newly launched podcast series. I’m Reed Preston, founder of Preston Hemp Co and ambassador for Triminator. I’ll be hosting the series along with our Triminator co-founder Dana Mosman. 

This episode, we’re going to be chatting with CJ Swartz, founder of Industrial Hemp Genetics located in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Dana Mosman: Thanks for the intro, Reed. Yeah, happy to have CJ on here and have the opportunity to chat. 

Obviously, a lot of stuff going on in the genetic world. Both hemp and cannabis. With the industry constantly changing, it’s always good to get kind of a firsthand look at what’s going on with that. I know we’re always hearing about new cannabinoids and farmers, and there’s always the rumor mill about new genetics and different, uh, revolutions going on. So it’s nice to have someone that can shed some light on that stuff for us.

I’m just kinda interested to hear what CJ has going on in terms of field trials and what he’s learned in his past with, uh, hemp and where he sees it going in the future. So…

CJ Schwartz: Thanks for having me on. I’ve been involved in plant molecular genetics for over 20 years, and I think sort of that term really defines what we do is, instead of using just normal genetics, which in cannabis, a lot of people would call pheno-hunting. Looking for whatever phenotype you want. We combine that with DNA information and we are able to correlate certain traits or phenotypes as we call them, with DNA changes in their genomes and that we call the genotype. So being able to put those two things together, gives us a lot of power to discover which genes are important. And then we can lock those in, in a certain strain – say it’s powdery, mildew resistance – and now we want to go on and change flowering time. So by just tracing the genes, we don’t even have to grow the plants. We just take a quick look at the DNA, like a genetic fingerprint, and we’re able to predict the phenotype or how that plant will express in the field.

What we originally do is pretty much like 23andMe for humans. So we want to go ahead and look at a cannabis genome, all the genes, all the chromosomes, and find out what, where it looks like it came from. How much of it, uh, it looks like it was from South Africa or Afghanistan. Um, is it a Mexican variety, which often, um, don’t have much of a photoperiod, ‘cause there’s not a difference in day length. Did it come from, you know, the Plains or Russia? Is it a ruderalis? 

So essentially our goal is to really try to characterize what people are getting. And that’s how the previous company I worked with, Sunrise Genetics, we started out by providing this service to we’re especially thinking dispensaries.

If your patients are going to be buying something, it’d be nice if they could get it on the other side of the country too. The other coast. Especially when you’re talking about, you know, children taking a certain variety, there really should be some quality control. And it’s quite clear to everybody involved that the names don’t mean much of anything.

And so that was our initial goal was to really provide some quality control and transparency. But at the same time, when you have generated that type of information, you can go ahead and try to discover actually the genes that are important. So it moves actually beyond just a variety and it ends up being a gene and due to testing, you can move that around a different variety.

So you may have – like I said, powdery mildew is a good one – strain that’s resistant and you can cross it to Hindu Kush or Jack Herer. And, you know, you can go ahead and integrate that powdery mildew, but keep most of the, um, properties of the parental plant. And so this is really important for, especially if, when plants are going to be moved outside, which is, which is mostly hemp. And there are things that we would like to have better control of, um, that would be water control and drought tolerance, um, freeze tolerance. And in Denver, they get hit every once in a while by, you know, a late-winter freeze. Sorry, late spring freeze. And, um, so some of these properties, um, are, are quite important.

And really what we’re doing with plants that are going outside in the field is we like to take – so, um, there’s an equation that’s really famous in breeding and it’s p=GxE. So P is your phenotype. So let’s say that that’s going to be your yield. And then G is the genetic component. So, you know, usually, something is limited by what it can do based upon its genes to some degree, but then the environment has a big effect on it. And which genes may be important depending on which environment you’re in. So, you know, the trait is a combination of this interaction between your genes and the environment.

So one thing we want to create are varieties that are not so sensitive to the environment. So if they do get half the rain they were supposed to get compared to last year, they’ll still produce relatively well. And so we call this genetic penetrance, so it’s not so sensitive to the environment. 

And so the outdoor experiments that we’re doing this year is we’re planting plants in a latitudinal cline, going all the way from the UPM, Michigan down to the middle of Illinois. And one thing that we especially want to focus on is flowering time. So traditionally plants as you go further north flower earlier because they have a shorter growth period, right? They’re trying to get it done before flowering or before freezing. Cannabis is a little different in that it usually finishes before it has to worry about a freeze.

So we’re sort of trying to figure out what are the triggers that make cannabis flower, and then how quickly does it mature once flowering is initiated? And how does that change compared to down south, um, versus up north, you know? You have different temperatures, um, and day lengths in both of those conditions.

And those are the types of things we would like to be able to control more precisely, so farmers don’t have to worry about their crops going hot, as you would say, is exceeding that 0.3% THC. 

Dana Mosman: How much of that information is out there? I know earlier we were looking at some information and, you know, you mentioned, like, the phenome hunting and then also I guess overlaying that with sort of a more traditional, scientific, um, perspective on it. 

How much do we know about the genome at this point? Or like how much information do we have available and how much still has to be kind of filled in if you will?

CJ Schwartz: Right. Well, um, we are catching up slowly. Just last year there was $30 billion spent on improving corn. Right. You would think, you would think we’re there already. 

But you know, um, you know, one example is plants have a thing called the shade avoidance syndrome. So if they’re getting shaded, they like to grow tall and skinny and not very good. Well, then they got rid of that in corn. Right? So bred it out. So now you can get many more plants next to each other and get a bunch of higher yield, you know? So that’s one of the kinds of changes that you can do.

But for cannabis, the biggest problem is we did not have a complete genome sequence. So I was discussing earlier, we want to find the genes. Well, what we had was essentially a map where all the states and all the cities were scattered in a box and they weren’t an order. So we did not have a genome for cannabis. And probably the biggest accomplishment of my past company is that we did produce a very high-quality genome sequence.

So this means that we know there’s 10 chromosomes and we know where every gene is on those chromosomes. And then that allows us to go ahead and, genetically engineer is sort of the wrong term, because we’re not making a GMO, we’re just doing traditional breeding, but we’re able to find out which parts of which genome are important.

You know, now we can know that gene A is, you know, two chromosomes and chromosomes away from gene B, and they’re both important for yield. And what we can do is now track those. Before we had no idea where they were. And often what you’ll find in any trait, is it’s a combination of genes. It’s not very often just a single gene that makes a difference, but sort of a tweaking a pathway to be better.

So being able to understand the relationship of one gene to another, um, is really huge in making these large gains in breeding where you’re not just, you know, making a little bit each year, but going towards, you know, much more, you know, revolutionary type changes and all the modern crops are up there.

So there’s, you know, multiple genome sequences. So just like with people, you know, you’re, now you’re able to compare, you know, what results, which genes result in having connected ear lobes, um, that type of thing. When you have enough data, it’s just computer work. 

And so cannabis is getting up there. There are now 13 published genomes. I’m proud to say that ours is considered the flagship. So we are officially the first cannabis genome sequenced recognized by NIH. And so any new genome that a sequence is first compared to ours. Um, so, you know, we’re the reference genome, just like Craig J. Venter was the first human sequence. So everybody’s compared to him.

Dana Mosman: Congratulations on that. That’s big, right? That’s big stuff?

CJ Schwartz: Yeah. It’s big. It probably drove us out of business, but yeah, it was big. It was big. 

Dana Mosman: Haha. I mean, I think you’re not alone in, in that, in the hemp industry though. Right? Like you do something big and you may not be around, but hey, you got your name in the book.

CJ Schwartz: Yeah. I mean, and the thing is, it was really necessary for us to continue on with a real scientifically based breeding program. You know, we would need it to know where those genes were. So essentially we needed a complete high-quality genome sequence. 

And, um, you know, as it turns out, a lot of plants have many repeats. And you see, and you can imagine if you’re putting together a puzzle and a lot of them look the same, the pieces, it could be hard to put it together. And so that’s been, that’s why cannabis has taken so long. And, and there was, um, really three or four major groups sort of in a race. So medicinal genomics, they also have cannabis, like, sex tests and cannabinoid tests where you, they send it to you and you can, it’s a colorimetric test. And you can tell if your plants are male or female, or if they’re, um, contaminated, for instance, if hemp is contaminated with a THC producing gene, um, you can discover that. 

So they were involved. And there was a group named Phylos, which is not too far from where you guys are. They’re in Portland. And, uh, they also were involved in genome sequence.

And so it sort of was a race and, you know, there’s, I think probably been some egos, uh, damaged a little bit. Australia, there’s a group there by Neil Kogan and they have, once again, a very high-quality one and then there’s one from China. 

And so those are really the only ones that have been reduced down to where they know there’s 10 chromosomes. The other ones are sort of just a bunch of pieces and also like a thousand pieces, but you don’t know how they relate to each other, and that sort of the problem. So, yeah, it was, um, you know, I think I probably talked on this. It seemed like, you know, every other week, back in around 2018 when sort of everything was happening, and people wanting to, uh, sort of win the game to get to the front and then, and also to be correct.

So the truth is there’s some disagreement between the different assemblies as they’re called. You assemble all the sequence into a complete map. And there’s still more to be done with that, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m out of that part now. And, uh, you know, I’m really interested in, you know, working with plants and, and trying to improve their traits, make them more stable and very specific for what people want to produce.

And like you said, there’s these different cannabinoids and terpenes. I think it’s definitely where we’re going next. Um, you know, there’s about, there’s a group of major terpene… 

Go ahead. It looked like he had a question. 

Dana Mosman: Oh, no. I mean, I was just gonna say, um, Yeah, no, the terpene stuff is super interesting. And I had read on your website – I mean, we have a lot of, you know, we have a wide range of people on this show – but like, one of the things that stuck out to me was, you mentioned in your website genetics kind of 101. And you were referencing it earlier with the corn. There’s kind of three things at, like, a very basic level that you’re breeding for, I guess or managing through genetics.

Can you talk about that relative to, like, kind of what you’re trying to do in the cannabis space or the, you know, the hemp space in terms of like, what are the traits? So we’re kind of getting to it with terpenes, but what are some other things that you’re working on? 

CJ Schwartz: Right. Well, um, you know, so that there really is a large division between – so cannabis is actually, um, the, the species name and then, um, indica, sativa, and ruderalis are sort of considered subspecies.

And then a lot of people think sativa, sort of hemp. And so there’s a little mixed up there. So we really go by MJ, which is marijuana. So it essentially produces over 0.3% and then hemp, which doesn’t. So those are the two things that we’re looking at, and what people are desiring are quite a bit different.

The biggest thing people want in MJ right now is, uh, 30% dry weight. And, um, you know, it’s possible, but that’s pretty good for a plant anyhow, producing 25% of its complete dry weight of a single chemical. Um, and you know, maybe it just have a little bit more and you’ll get to that 30%. I don’t know.

It doesn’t seem like, uh, it seems like more of a marketing issue. A lot of different flavors are known in MJ. And so that definitely is an area to concentrate on. The terpenes as they turn out, they move around in groups. So if you sort of went and looked at where they are on the chromosomes, you know, there’s like four or five clusters and you can either have like one cluster or four clusters.

So you’re able to sort of alter, you know, change what the terpene component will be, add and take away from these clusters. But there’s some combinations you can’t make because they’re clustered together. So I think that’s one thing that people will work on in the future by using actual genetic engineering, the CRISPR technique, where you can go in and just slightly change a gene. But not insert anything. Just change a letter and that’s officially not considered a GMO.

And so what the idea would be as if myrcene… Yeah. If myrcene and limonene are made together, they might be right next to each other on the genome. What are you going to do? What you can do is you can introduce a single DNA change and it will cause the limonene synthase – um, TPS terpene synthase is what they’re called – to no longer work. Then now you’ve got one that’s just myrcene. And that may be very rare in the cannabis community because they are together in the same spot. 

And so, you know, when you put it together for the major terpenes there’s probably going to end up being 10, uh, group strains. Which would provide all these different combinations of terpenes, you know, so essentially the different varieties.

So, um, what you would hope is that the rest of the genes in this plant are fairly similar, so it acts similar, but you have, um, 10 different flavors of it. Which could be myrcene, you know, supposedly helps with sedation. So that could be the one that you have your favorite strain that you have at night. And then, um, I’m trying to think of something, let’s just say limonene, it gives you a little lift. I’m just making that up. I don’t know, have any proof on it. That maybe it’d be what you want in the morning, you know? 

Dana Mosman: Yeah. Sure. Sure

CJ Schwartz: So it’s that type of pressure, right? Yep. Now when we flip over to hemp…

Dana Mosman: Yeah. On the hemp side, like, what are the different traits that you’re seeing coming together? I mean, you obviously are growing also, or, you know, for fiber, that’s one thing, grain, that’s another thing, flower, obviously another thing. One, do you see a future in each of those markets? And then two, like, what are the genetic, like, for an individual, are each of those their own, you know, 30 billion or 30 million or whatever, in improvements, is that, uh, or, or are they more like grouped together? Just because they all have different use cases. I mean, is there any crossover between each kind of use case for the plant? 

CJ Schwartz: Right. Well, that actually is probably the most realistic goal right now is to try to make something multi-cropping. Um, I did just want to say one thing about terpenes and hemp. And then in the fact that hemp has grown outside, it makes no sense to grow inside, even if it’s for CBD, even when CBD was very expensive, but it’s possible that these terpenes or different terpene combinations can help in pest resistance, um, herbivory or some type of mold or fungus.

And so that’s one thing. So while there’s a lot of terpene work being done for the flavors on the MJ side. I’m quite interested in, and groups are interested in looking at if there’s any resistance that’s conferred to me, why are these terpenes made? Um, they don’t seem to attract anything. You know, a lot of animals make a fruit, that’s tasty to get the seeds spread, but that’s not, I don’t know of anything that really eats, um, MJ flower or hemp flower. Birds will eat the seed.

And then if we want to talk about the seed. Now sadly enough, it’s not, there’s not too much special about the hemp seed and what it produces. It’s fairly common, its components. Even though there is one compound – I can’t remember – that is actually used to supplement animal feed for cows, that it’s supposedly high in, but high as in having mostly would be very little and hemp seed has just a little more than a little, so it’s not a huge amount.

But you know, hemp seed has the advantage that you don’t need quite this infrastructure as you do for a fiber processing plant, to go ahead and, you can squeeze the seeds. So farmers can do that to get oil. Um, or the seed can be directly fed for animal feed and/or human feeds. So there’s, um, you know, a lot of hemp seed products out there.

Um, it’s actually all irradiated and mostly comes from China, so it can’t be germinated. But it’s, um. I think one thing that would be possible, you know, as we learn more about this plant and just plants in general is we could make the seed better. We could make the seed oil better. So that it would, could be enriched in, in some, you know, omega acid that would make it, um, more valuable than, than other seed.

But yeah, so it’s a little easier. Now, fiber is the last on the train here. And, you know, I sometimes think of them as almost having an order of magnitude difference where if CBD was worth $10, um, grain would be worth $1 and fiber would be worth 10 cents. So it’s because for making a profit, what it’s worth.

You know, in fiber, one of the problems is there’s other products that can be used, so it’s not unique. But it does have really long, strong fibers and people are looking at. So, um, a group called MultiHemp that was in Europe, it was a five-year project. And there was a group that had essentially developed a hemp plant, you know, that was the size of your leg. So it had, um, you know, a lot of the material to go ahead and make fibers. With a fiber crop too, you actually don’t even want it to flower and produce seed because that’s just a waste of energy for it. So that’s one problem with multi-cropping. 

Okay. So you can’t have fiber and seed together. All right. We understand that. And so I think the favorite goal right now is to have both CBD and seed. So you would be able to harvest and then that CBD would mostly be for extracts. So it probably would not be quality flower that people would be able to smoke. And you’d probably lose a lot of the terpenes, ‘cause you’re going to have to dry it out to get your seeds out of there.

That’s probably going to be, at least from what I can see here right now, the best way for people to farm hemp.

Dana Mosman: Are there other crops that are multi-crop? Or, like, where’s that idea come from? From the perspective of like, like is corn and multi… I don’t know. I don’t know. But, like, why is that a thought process, I guess is the root question?

CJ Schwartz: Right. And I would say, I guess it’s known, and I don’t know it. But I’m sure there are some crops that have, even if it’s just maybe overproduction of two different chemicals or, or something like that, you know, anytime you can get more out of it. 

And, um, and a lot of it is involved with agronomics. And so for instance, you wouldn’t want to have a bunch of hemp plants in your field that flowered at different times, and we’re all different heights, right? How are you going to multi-crop that? You’d like to be able to go in and cut the heads off. And if you were doing fiber, then you’d come and do a lower cut and then take those fiber things.

But for fiber, there are a couple places. So, Texas A&M had a collaboration with a gentleman down there where they’re building a plant. I think they called it The Texas Plains. I’m not really sure what that is. Um, and then there was another group that I just heard about that’s also building a fiber plant. The problem is you have to separate the outside from the inside.

And like in China they just soak them in water and then they sort of comes apart, but that’s not really a sustainable way to do it. And so, you know, it’s going to take a little bit of infrastructure for hemp fiber, I think, to sort of become mainstream, to go beyond just sort of, uh, you know, people that want some hemp clothing.

Even though, you know, some automobile parts, I’m sure you guys have heard this, uh, are partially infused with hemp fibers. And I’m not really sure exactly why they found those hemp fibers superior in that case. But they, apparently there’s some reason. 

Dana Mosman: Sure.

CJ Schwartz: And so then the agronomic traits bring us back to us, looking for things that we would look for in any other crop. And that would, for instance, be the shade avoidance syndrome, we would like to be able to get them close together and not have them, you know, extend too long and then they can tip over if they try to get too tall and skinny. One advantage of having them close together too is you can crowd out weeds. So if you can get a good canopy going right away, you do not have to use a herbicide. You can essentially, they’re crowded out from the shade. So that’s one reason to try to get them close together. 

CBD just does not harvest very economically right now. Um, like, for instance, Colorado is not a good place to grow it. You have to irrigate it. You know, and they’re separated by six feet. They’re sort of the indica type, you know, they get really thick and bushy. And then sometimes they actually, like, split in half ‘cause they’re so heavy. 

So really on what we want to look at overall for the species of cannabis, that I would love to see MJ growing outside and simply for the carbon footprint. It would save so much. I mean, when you go up to these places in Colorado, the whole roof is filled with air conditioners. Just HVAC from one end to the other. Just for that. And they do, there are, uh, groups that grow in hoop houses out in California and in certain environments. And there’s varieties that are auto-flowering, you know, so some people try to get an auto-flowering in real quick before putting another one in.

So sort of just figuring out what’s going to work best in the field and for us given location. 

Dana Mosman: How does that play out? Like, uh, I know we were talking to someone earlier on a podcast about, you know, like she’s from the south, for example, and she’s from Georgia. And it was just, we were talking about the pest pressure regionally.

How do you see, like, the different U.S. regions playing out for hemp and from a genetic perspective? Is there a regional genetics or how does it play out? 

CJ Schwartz: Right. I would think that there probably will be some regional genetics. And another thing that a lot of people are looking at are symbiotics. So there’s, um, a bacteria called a methanotroph that lives on the leaves and this supposedly can help with pest resistance and overall growth.

There’s a number of different type of microbes that interact with the roots of different type plants. So some pest resistance hopefully will be conferred, um, by actually other organisms. But part of it is the cannabis plant needs to be susceptible to allowing that plant to live there and do its job.

And so that’s part of the genetic deal. And really when you look at resistance overall, it’s a heck of a battle because, you know, we have these genes, uh, humans, plants, you know, the immune genes and there’s just tons of copies of them. And they’re all sort of different because you’re not sure what type of invader you’re going to get hit with.

And that’s sort of like when you get a vaccine, it’s giving you the exact directions as to what the invader will look like. So then your immune system can get it. But there’s a war between the, you know, COVID’s a perfect example. It keeps getting variants to try to get over the human immunity. And it’s the same thing out in the field with pests and plants.

It is a battle. And, you know, just when you might have found a resistance like glucosinolate is something that’s produced that helps keep pests off plants. Well, bacteria may become more resistant to it and now you’ll have to deal with that. And so, you know, humidity, soil type, all of that stuff is going to be hugely important.

And also the, you know, timing of the season. So it dropped back to flowering time, my favorite thing. But like corn, you can get varieties that, you know, flower at 93 days, 100 days, 107 days. Separated just by one week, you know? So we want to have that type of control where we, you know, really where the industry is at right now is collecting all the different varieties, testing those varieties and field sites.

And so that’s some of the stuff I’ve been talking about and how I have clones that are going into eight different environments. So the clones are genetically identical. So in that equation, p=GxE, there’s no G. So essentially it allows you to see how your plant changes due to the environment.

You know, the flowering time changes total cannabinoids. Because these plants actually will go hot if they grow too long. So they really need to be harvested before the end of the season. And so that’s the type of thing that we’re helping to do. So most of the groups that I’m working with are extension programs from different states and they’re doing it to make documents for their farmers. To give them advice.

Dana Mosman:  Right.  So like sort of a regional state guideline or something to help them be successful with the crop basically? 

CJ Schwartz: Right. Right. I mean, you can also think about it as hardiness zones that they have throughout the US. I think a lot of that’s based on the first freeze and, um, yeah. But yeah, as far as, you know, cannabis it’s, um. You know, there just hasn’t been a lot of testing done at this point.

And, um, and also being able to get rich right now with the product. So it’s, you know, there’s a lot of these, yeah. These buyback groups that offer to, you know, give you the seed, buy it back, and then, you know, they disappear. 

Dana Mosman:  You need more Delta-8 in there. 

CJ Schwartz: Yeah. That’s, I mean, I didn’t even know about that until like four or five weeks ago, so uh…

Reed Preston:  Really?

CJ Schwartz: So it’s only produced – you have to have pure CBD and then convert it. So the plant doesn’t make it. I don’t know if you’d be able to engineer that in there or not. But I’d be inter… I mean, it’s clearly probably going to be regulated and there’s worry about CBD going under the FDA vs. the department of agriculture because that would sort of make it a mess. 

But I don’t know. I mean, CBD is pretty harmless. And so I don’t know if it would be worth it, but who knows. Who knows what the, you know, the DEA still considers it a Schedule I, which is, you know, there was a purely scientific peer-reviewed paper published in 2017 that showed it stopped Dravet syndrome and kids. I mean, there’s a proven medical effect that nothing else can do. So that’s, that’s BS. 

Dana Mosman: And before the show, we were talking a little bit about the genetic problem with the 0.3% THC, from your perspective, can you talk about that? Um, because I thought that was interesting. I never recognized that before.

CJ Schwartz: Right. So there’s some enzymes and these are, um, they take a substrate and make a product. So it’s some type of chemical conversion. The two of them that we know most about are CBDA synthase and THCA synthase. And the A gets eliminated once you heat it up. And so that’s why I want to apply heat to either CBDA or THCA,  you get CBD and THC.

Anyhow, we don’t have to go into any more of those details, but those enzymes actually are very alike and it turns out so much alike that the CBD enzyme makes 5%. THC is a byproduct. Right? As an accident, it just spits it out. And this is what really is a problem for farmers trying to keep at, uh, below 0.3%, because that would equal only 6% CBD. And we know that there are plants capable of producing high teens, if not low twenties of CBD. So it’s really sort of a waste. And a lot of breeding efforts have been trying to get rid of this residual effect. And so far, there’s no evidence has been published that has really been achieved, getting both high CBD and low THC. 

What’s sort of interesting, if you go the flip direction, the enzyme that makes THC, it only spits out a CBD 1 out of 200 times, or 0.5% vs 5%. So in other words, the CBD gene is 10 times more promiscuous, than the THC genes and that’s really, you know, people want the CBD, of course, they want the THC, but in THC plants, CBD is not a problem. It’s the other way around. 

Dana Mosman:  Right. 

CJ Schwartz: And so there’s one possibility is to try to find new versions of the CBD gene that are often hemp that maybe are feral, that are populations that haven’t been discovered in other places yet. You know, and then you would try to take that gene and put it into a high-producing background.

So we published a paper that showed that the modern CBD strains, nearly all of them are 89% marijuana and only 11% hemp. That hemp region of course includes the CBD. But it’s actually other parts of the genome, other genes located elsewhere, which produced the total amount of cannabinoids. So you don’t need just the CBD gene, but you also need the genes that make, uh, marijuana pretty much like hemp on steroids as far as producing cannabinoids. 

Marijuana has been bred just to produce high cannabinoids and terpenes per se or whatever. So it’s, that’s what it’s really good at. Hemp has not and is not. And so just recently the CBD gene was combined with this, uh, super genome where you now can produce high CBD. Of course you have the problem with this little by-product hanging around. Is which the 5% THC and, you know, some people go to a lot of chemical expense and effort to go ahead and eliminate even that small amount that’s even below 0.3% in some applications. So, it’s possible that using this CRISPR system where you change just a single, uh, DNA molecule to it, to a different one, that there may be a version of the CBD gene that can be made that would produce less of the THC, that would… People are doing it right now.

You know, one way you do it is you almost make it like a competition. You just put a whole bunch of different versions in there and then try to figure out who’s producing the least THC, and then you find out, you know, what the difference is and try to put them together. But it’s a big, I mean, people have been asking for that from the day that we started, the old company seven years ago. We want a lower THC plant because we’re getting so much CBD, but they go hot so early.

Dana Mosman:  Right. 

CJ Schwartz: And they’re still asking for it.

Reed Preston: And then what about like, um, you know, like CBG or CBV or CBDV, CBN, CBC? Like, what do you know about, you know, there’s other cannabinoids that are just, you know, like newly discovered and their correlation with THC? Is it similar? Like, is there that 5% threshold? 

CJ Schwartz: Yeah, it’s, it’s all a little different. Actually, the CBC enzyme is the most like the THC enzyme, so that was, um, and, but it doesn’t seem to really produce that much. And I know there are people trying to make strains that are just CBC. It also comes off of CBG. I’m nearly positive for some reason, blanking on that for a second. 

Um, but you know, normally these chemicals are produced in such small amounts, that is a little hard to imagine. They might have an effect. But of course, that’s why there’s the entourage effect or synergy as we call it as maybe only need a teensy little bit of a CBC to go ahead and make the CBD work better. 

And that’s really one of the biggest arguments for the terpenes is really the entourage effect that a certain suite of terpenes along with a certain cannabinoid will result in an enhanced infect, not just an additive, but a synergistic, a multiplicative effect where you get a much more, um, I guess bang for the buck. 

Dana Mosman:  Right. 

CJ Schwartz: One example actually is – this is almost sort of a public health warning, but not that I know from experience – but if you are drinking and smoking at the same time for a number of hours, you know, you’ll feel tired and you’ll have some effects from both of those chemicals or drugs. If you smoke first and then drink, you know, you’ll feel a little bit of an additive effect. But if you drink to the point where you’re intoxicated, you know, not totally falling over, but pretty well buzzed, and then you smoke, it’s like a double whammy. Then it really hits you. 

Dana Mosman: It’s the entourage effect, yeah?

CJ Schwartz: Yeah. Yeah. It is. But it’s that certain combination. Well and I think that’s why a lot of people I’ve had have said that they’ve had bad experiences because of course, they decided to smoke some after bar close. That’s the worst time. You’re not going to remember tomorrow. 

Dana Mosman: Yeah. Um, yeah. Well, I’ll think of that when I think of the entourage effect now. I’ll, uh, remember how those work. 

Reed Preston: I’ve got another question, like back to, you know, breeding and DNA testing. Like, how like, um. How does, like, a seed become like your intellectual property? Like, how do you, you know, like own or patent your genetics? Like, what’s that process like?

CJ Schwartz: Right. So, uh, once again, we’re getting a little into the mushy area, both in reality and within myself. But there’s, um, so there’s two different kinds. You can get a plant variety protection, or you can get a patent, one of them’s for sexually reproducing and one’s for just clones.

And really generally you have to have made something original. So we had got a strain of ours certified in Colorado, simply because we had done a cross. If we had not done a cross, they wouldn’t certify. So that’s not really a patent per se, but it is one level of quality. 

And some of the patents that have come out have been really stupid so far.  They’ve actually been ones to show how to make a feminized seed. You know, I mean, people have been doing it forever. So, um, it’s pretty hard to patent things, but it really is. There’s another one where the people have claimed to have isolated a unique cannabis strain from somewhere. And it has this, you know, once they crossed it to something that has this chemical profile and they patented it.  Now, who says that something else doesn’t have that chemical profile? You know, there’s no evidence that that actually is unique.

Dana Mosman: In that case, are they patenting the novelty of the process or the novelty of the actual, like chemical properties? You know?

CJ Schwartz: The plant. Yeah. The chemical properties that it produces.

Dana Mosman: Yeah. Ok. So the outcome of the process. 

CJ Schwartz: Yes. Yes. I think a lot of those are not going to hold up and, you know, I don’t even remember how long. I think some, once something becomes public, you only have a year left that you can patent it. Public as in people can get their hands on it. 

Um, and you know, there are ways that people do try to protect their genetics. One is by having a triploid like Oregon CBD has, so the plants are sterile. So you can’t go ahead and make more seed. And also by producing F1 hybrids where you have two really inbred parents and you put them together and you get this sort of unique phenotype, but it’s a one and done you can’t go ahead and take those seeds and make more seeds just because of the way the genetics work. Things get mixed up in each generation, just like you don’t look like your siblings. Um, so those are pretty much… It’s pretty hard to protect your genetics.

Dana Mosman: How, how does, um, like from a stability perspective, you’re talking a little bit about it. I mean, are genetics in cannabis stable, like they would be in another agricultural product, or like, are we generations away from stable genetics? 

CJ Schwartz: So I got just an alert by the way, but, um… 

The problem with cannabis is that it has been bred so many times – so we call that add mixture – that there’s really hardly any pure varieties left. So once again, thinking of 23andMe and humans, you know, there are certain DNA changes in humans that are associated with the Scandinavians, and there are certain DNA changes associated with Eastern Europeans. And, you know, if you look at probably some of our parents you’ll see that they’re really, you know, only 50/50, of these two, or maybe 25%, 75% of two different, you know, areas of the world.

With cannabis, it’s the other way around in that they’ve been mixed up and crossed by so many people. They’re essentially mutts, right? There’s no purebred cannabis anymore. And so it actually is a genetic mess. So, you know, in some cases, like I said, you could check a DNA change and find out that a person is Scandinavian, but we can’t really do that yet in cannabis because there’s so many mixtures, that we can’t tell why is this plant, uh, good for drought tolerance and, and this one isn’t. Well, there’s already so many changes between them. It’s hard for us to compare. 

And so with every genome that is sequenced – we’re up to 13, now – you get more of an idea of what that is, and there’s a term called pangenomic. And that would be, if you take any given gene, let’s see, a gene that causes height, be it in plants or humans, you want to try to find every single version of that gene in the whole species, right? And then that gives you an idea of what it may be doing. ‘Cause now you look for correlations between being tall and short, um, and it gives you an idea of how you may be able to change that gene to go ahead and change something to make it either taller short.

So it’s really the problem with cannabis is that there’s just not a lot of pure strains left. You can’t pick up a strain, you can’t really genotype a strain and say, well, this one’s from Northern China. This one’s from Southern China. This one’s from Mexico. This, you know, um. That there’s been just too much mixing up at this point. I mean, essentially like what this world will or what America perhaps will look like after another five generations. So just a gemisch. 

Dana Mosman: So to kinda know, like, what the correlation is, you almost have to do just a ton of mapping to get to a similar perspective as you might have in another crop? So you could understand all the correlations between the genes?

CJ Schwartz: Yes. That’s it exactly. You need big numbers and essentially you can’t. I mean, it’s really in the hands of the bioinformaticians. You know, we’re in these days where you can sequence things really cheaply. We can do a strain for\ I think about a hundred bucks, um, you know, with some stipulations. 

But we can tell what it is and essentially that means that we would have identified, you know, like 1 million, maybe 2 million differences between that strain, and let’s say the strain we sequence at NIHS, you know? And so then you just keep comparing them, all these DNA differences, to try to really get the whole catalog of what are all the differences out there. And then, you know, like you said, you start looking for these correlations.

But the hardest part, actually, it’s not getting the DNA more, it’s getting the phenotype, it’s growing the plants up because if you’re just trying to think of flower phenotype, you know, you’re talking six months. Yeah. Got to get them, you got to go have them go to maturity. You know, you have to dry that flower however way you’re processing it. And then analyze it. 

So phenotyping is really, what’s the most expensive and what is the furthest behind in cannabis research. And you know, presumably, every year that these trials are going on and data is produced in different states, we’re getting more of this information and eventually you will have a database where someone will bring you a seedling or a plant, and you’ll just be able to look at some of the DNA in it, and then you’ll predict the phenotype and you won’t have to phenotype it. So that’s the goal, um, where essentially you are able to do some of this research really just on the computer without having to grow the plants.

Of course, you know, you’d want to verify your results, but it’s, you know, just getting this, all these correlations established so that you have enough power to be predictive instead of just always doing experiments and hopefully you can produce crops, which will make a profit. 

Dana Mosman: Right. And how does that trickle, like how do you foresee that trickling down to the consumer, um, in terms of what they get or expect to get at, you know, in the cannabis, for example, or, you know, THC strains, like what will the results of that be if and when we ever get to that at the consumer level? What does that mean to them? 

CJ Schwartz: Well, for both, I consider CBD and THC, both drug varieties. And you know, for both of them, the entourage effect – be that with other cannabinoids or with the terpenes – are of great interest to the medical community.

One advantage that, you know, what one goal of mine is to be able to make some varieties that are so stable and consistent that they can be used for medical trials. You know, cause right now that’s sort of, the problem is to decide which terpenes are important and there’s a hundred cannabinoids made, many of them in very small amounts, but how important are they?

You know, so we would like to make a plant that gets rid of maybe all the major cannabinoids and just overproduces one of the smaller ones or less abundant normally. And then have something to do patient trials with. I mean, we just don’t have the information on what the – medical information as to what these chemicals are doing. We just have a lot of hearsay. And it’s not really as sort of a bummer. I mean, whenever I go into a shop and hear budtenders talk and stuff, I’m just sorta like, yeah, I don’t know. You don’t know that. I know you don’t know that. Anyhow.

Dana Mosman: Yeah. Not a lot of evidence to back the claims.

CJ Schwartz: No, no. I mean, from the drug perspective, I really think that the key is trying to just have consistency and really, I mean, it doesn’t even have to be the total yield, but just like similar ratios of the chemicals in that plant so that patients can have a similar effect. So they can expect the same effect.

I mean, you just, if somebody is taking something for anti-anxiety, you know, you don’t want to give them something that’s going to make them anxious. And right now you have no idea, you know, if you’re going to be able to get the same thing next week, or if it even is the same thing. 

But DNA doesn’t lie. So DNA will tell you, and that’s one reason why I’d sorta like to see more testing and really just bring a higher quality, you know, of transparency. So people know what they’re getting, you know? I mean, there’s a lot of places now you can look up their terpene profiles. Um, but of course, you know, those were tested after one harvest.

You know, how consistent are your plants now? And, and really that’s, in cannabis, we’re halfway there to getting a bunch of inbred lines or very stable lines that then allow us to go ahead and do this gene discovery, make these F1 hybrids and get lines that are just very predictable and are not doing weird things because there’s such a combination of so many different, you know, varieties, regional varieties.

Dana Mosman: Yeah, absolutely. In terms of that research, do you see that as more of a public, uh, with your history, do you see that more of a public domain with universities and kind of publicly public/private partnerships? Or more in 

CJ Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, that’s a pretty, uh, interesting story.

So most of the major competitors that I was working with – so essentially doing, let’s say genetics and breeding and genomics and cannabis – almost someone in their company has a faculty position at a university. Right? So that, uh, the university system is tied in, simply because there has been few places to do research.

One of my collaborators at University of Minnesota, he had only the second DEA license so that he could actually grow MJ. And then they had to lock it up like a bank. I mean, in Canada, when they first built all their things there, they had to have a bank-like vault, you know, at a hundred thousand dollars. And then three months later they decided that they didn’t. You know, so that’s the type of things that you sort of have to put up in this industry. 

So I may have passed your original question if you wanted to circle back, but I don’t quite…

Dana Mosman: No. No, I think, I mean, I think you got it. Like basically it was public/private, you know, and I, I think like the root of it is that it needs some public support, at least at this point, um, the university support. And I think that’s the way it is in a lot of other things, right? Like, industry provides support for institutions and that’s how the research gets done.

CJ Schwartz: Right. But, but I will say that there definitely is a difference between MJ and hemp in that, uh, you know, the medical community is involved and MJ and CBD, but they don’t really have the greatest materials, you know? Trying to have people fill out a questionnaire and stuff. I mean, we tried to do that at first too, and it’s, it’s just really hard, but for hemp, it definitely is largely academic, right now.

There’s a meeting in San Diego every year called The Plant and Animal Genome meeting. And it’s really the, it’s a big meeting. And I and our company actually started the first cannabis workshop about three years ago. And it, so, I mean, it was great because it helps get really people from all over the world and, you know. Australia is making big gains. Israel has made big gains in both hemp and MJ, and we’ve also created the, uh, let’s see if I can get this right. The International Cannabis Genomics Research Consortium. Yeah. So there’s, uh, there’s probably about a hundred of us in that.

And so you know, part of it, you know, that the virus sorta threw things off, but we meet every year in San Diego at this Plant and Animal Genome meeting and talk about what’s going on. Cornell is going to make a seed bank and Australia is also going to make a seed bank for hemp. But there isn’t one really for MJ, sort of an official one. Even though I know someone working on that. And of course, both of those seed banks, everything’s also going to be tied to DNA sequence. Right? So that’s how it comes in the door. That’s the first thing you do to sort of tell what it is. Even before growing it. 

Dana Mosman: Can’t just put Sour D in there or something and call it good? 

CJ Schwartz: Yeah. No. People have been doing that a long time. 

Reed Preston: Yeah. On, like, the… Given you’re obviously on the hemp side of things right now, you know, and given where the hemp market and industry has gone, do you see yourself, like, moving more towards the THC side? Um, you know, with legalization coming and all that good stuff. Or, you know what, I’d imagine most people are, you know, sort of steering in that direction, trying to make that transition if they’ve still got their head above water right now, you know? 

CJ Schwartz: Right. Well, I mean, there’s a couple of things. One is, there’s um. We weren’t paid very much in this past company. So THC seems pretty attractive at this point. But there are really, for MJ, there aren’t necessarily that many changes to make.

So one of the first things people asked is, uh, I think it’s the third time I’ve mentioned this CRISPR technology where you can go in and change a trait. And we were approached three different times by companies wanting to do it. And I just said, we don’t have the genes yet. We don’t know what we want to change yet.

And in a lot of that would be, you’re thinking agronomic traits. But as far as MJ, I mean, what do you want? And right now people want 30% THC. That’s, you know, that’s not very exciting, but, uh, um. 

Reed Preston: 35. 

CJ Schwartz: Yeah, exactly. I mean, where are we going to stop here? You know, the six-minute workout. Right? 

So it’s, you know, with hemp, you know, there’s, there’s quite a bit, you know, more to do simply because it’s growing outside and you’re trying to make it stronger. And as I said earlier, if we could get MJ growing outside, then there would be more research towards agronomic traits. Chemically, it’s just a problem because we don’t have evidence as to which chemicals do what? 

And so that’s why, you know, um, as I mentioned, I think the medical community. So there’s, you know, like these three or four clusters that make all these, these terpenes. What the medical community needs is a strain that has just one cluster of each of them. So then they can go ahead and test just those couple terpenes with an equivalent amount of either CBD or THC, and then see what their patients think.

You know, it’s just so hard to get that type of subjective information from people as to if it made them tired or how it affected their appetite. Leafly, which, um, you know, advertises a lot of information on different MJ strains. You know, they have a bunch of those types of ratings based upon what people have said, but its. You know, it’s just, hasn’t been done scientifically. And I guess that’s sort of the biggest problem. 

I think MJ for recreation, there’s not too much to do maybe except to get up to 30%, but for the medical stuff, um, I think it’s pretty important to…  

Reed Preston: 35. 

CJ Schwartz: You’re right. You’re right. It’s, uh, pretty important to figure out how these terpenes are interacting. I mean, what, what are they… I mean, can you find a magic combination? I mean, it’s just like whatever CBD does for these children with Dravet syndrome. That’s the type of precision that we’d like to find. And you know, CBD is more of a body chemical, so the receptor CB2 binds CBD and that’s more in your peripheral, your limbs and stuff, and CB1, that receptors in your brain. And that’s the one THC binds the best. 

But supposedly CBD can sort of have a, knock off some of the THC off of those receptors. So sort of reduce the THC effect. 

Reed Preston: Hmm. Right.

Dana Mosman: Hmm CJ, well that is uh…

CJ Schwartz: I’m just throwing out random facts for you. 

Dana Mosman: Well, thanks so much for, uh, coming on, CJ. We’re running up against our time limit here, but I learned a ton. I know our listeners learned a ton. Thank you again for all your time. 

If people are interested in learning more about you or your work, um, or getting any kind of genetic guidance, where can they find you?

CJ Schwartz: So I’m CJ@ihempgene.com. So, industrial hemp genetics. So just an I, and then hemp gene dot com. And really what, uh, would be interesting probably for people that want to learn more is, um, there’s publications in there. Those are sort of heavy, but then there’s articles. And one of them you had mentioned before was, like, Genetics 101.

And then also talking about how assembling this genomic map like I discussed is, is important and doing what we call marker-assisted breeding, which is using DNA and the phenotype together, um, genotype and phenotype together to do breeding. So those articles that, those I think would find useful for people to use, are really meant to sort of be at an understandable level. 

Dana Mosman: Sure, great.

Reed Preston: Mmm Hmm. Awesome

CJ Schwartz: Yeah, well, um, oh yeah, I guess I said cj@ihempgene.com would be my email address. Ihempgene.com would be the site. Yep.

Reed Preston: I think… You guys there? 

Dana Mosman: You’re breaking up.

CJ Schwartz: Is Reed frozen? Oh.

Dana Mosman: Go ahead, Reed, with your outro?

Reed Preston: Yeah. So make sure to join us for upcoming episodes. On our next episode, we’re going to be chatting with 918OG out of Oklahoma. Jeremy Babbitt. He’s a good friend of ours, and ambassador for Triminator. So if we’re going to be chatting with him about some of the best rosin practices and the flower market in Oklahoma.

Thank you guys so much for listening to the Own Your Harvest podcast, powered by Triminator. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe to the show and share it with your fellow growers and farmers. Really appreciate you guys. Thanks. 

Dana Mosman: Thanks, Reed. Let me just do that kind of, like, thing again so CJ can get his, uh, where-to-find-him a little tighter. Is that alright with you guys?

CJ Schwartz: Sure. Yeah. 

Dana Mosman: CJ, thanks so much for coming on. Obviously we learned a ton about genetics in cannabis, both THC and the hemp variants. And, uh, if people are interested in learning more about you or your work, um, where can they find you?

CJ Schwartz: You can go to the website, ihempgene.com. So, Industrial Hemp Genetics is the company. So I with a hemp gene. And then my email would be CJ@ihempgene.com. 

And I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to share. I think it’s really important for everybody to learn the science behind this and actually get some legitimacy in this business.

Dana Mosman: Absolutely. Well, thanks again for coming on.

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