Scientists Are Trying to stop GMOs on a New Front: Weed

August 27th 2015

A team of researchers at Phylos Bioscience launched the Cannabis Evolution Project last year in an effort to map the genetic structure of marijuana, effectively protecting the biodiversity of cannabis from corporate interests, such as Monsanto, which might be tempted to capitalize on legal weed by securing exclusive patents on select strains.

For years it has been rumored that Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical corporation, was developing genetically modified cannabis in advance of federal legalization. Supposedly stowed away in secret labs around the U.S., these marijuana GMOs would threaten the diversity of marijuana agriculture and put the company in a position to profit wildly once the government gave its final approval. It is clear according to varying reports, that it is only speculation, denied by Monsanto, but that hasn't stopped some scientists from taking preemptive action to prevent it from becoming a reality.

Dr. Mowgli Holmes, the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Phylos Bioscience, spoke to an audience of eager marijuana and tech enthusiasts at a conference held in Portland, Oregon, last week, asserting that pot was a crop on par with corn in terms of both its multifunctional properties and biological reach. Like corn, cannabis has been around for thousands of years (the plant was domesticated by humans about 10,000 years, according to some researchers), and it was quickly dispersed "to every corner of the world," he said.

This pushed pot "to a point in the evolutionary landscape that it never would’ve gotten on its own," Holmes added.

The scientist went on to say that he was leading the organization's efforts to create the DNA blueprint of various cannabis strains—in part because he hoped to keep pot "in the public domain," outside of the privatized sector that would imperil the bud's biological potential. In effect, this would "piss of Monsanto," he said, much to the satisfaction of the audience.

Monsanto has been widely criticized for its approach to genetically modified organisms. Many believe that the corporation has limited the biodiversity of crops by patenting its modified versions of seeds and essentially monopolizing the agricultural industry worldwide. In response to rumors about its prospective interests regarding the genetic modification of marijuana plants, Monsanto released a statement, saying that it "has not and is not working on GMO marijuana."

"This allegation is an Internet rumor and lie," the company wrote on its website. ATTN: reached out to Monsanto for comment but could not be reached before the time of publication.

Considering the fact that marijuana is predicted to grow into a $13 billion market in the U.S. by 2020, however, it is no wonder why suspicions are high among legalization advocates. If the federal government were to reschedule the substance—which is currently defined as Schedule I, the most dangerous drug classification under the Controlled Substance Act—then that would presumably prompt interest in the corporate agrochemical sector, putting pot at risk of being modified and monopolized.

"After all, other major American commodities, like corn and soybeans, are on average between 88 and 91 percent genetically modified," High Times reported. "Therefore, once the cannabis industry goes national, and that is most certainly primed to happen, there will be no stopping the inevitability of cannabis becoming a prostituted product of mad science and shady corporate monopoly tactics."

For now, it is only speculation; but Holmes and his team at the Cannabis Evolution Project are not taking any chances.

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