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Gene-Edited Tequila Bacteria Produce Cannabinoids

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Mar 29, 2019   
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Never mind oils and vape pens, cannabis connoisseurs of the future could be taking their marijuana in a shot with a slice of lime.

Farmako, a German pharmaceutical company, has filed a patent for the process of producing biosynthetic cannabinoids in the bacteria used to produce tequila. Although this variety of the microorganism is a new, genetically modified version, christened Zymomonas cannabinoidis.

By feeding Z. cannabinoidis caster sugar, the company hopes to turn out THC and other cannabinoids at a thousandth of the usual cost. 

The news follows recent reports from UC Berkley researchers, who managed to manufacture THC and CBD in bioengineered brewer’s yeast. But Farmako claim that its Z. cannabinoidis bacteria have far more advantages than such fungi-founded methods. 

“From an economic point of view, cannabinoid synthesis in yeast fungi are not very attractive,” explains Patrick Schmitt, co-founder of Farmako and chief science officer of the company. Schmitt modified tequila’s original bacterium by removing alcohol-producing genes and replacing them with genetic material from the malaria pathogen and the cannabis plant. 

“Although brewer's yeast can be used to produce cannabinoids, the cells have to be broken up after this synthesis, which stops production,” he states in a press release. “This is very difficult if the production is to be transferred to an industrial scale. Zymomonas cannabinoides, on the other hand, releases the produced cannabinoids directly into the surrounding medium. This allows continuous production without interruption.” 

The company hopes this unique selling point will be enough to differentiate it in the increasingly competitive cannabis market. Commenting on the booming industry, Niklas Kouparanis, CEO and founder of Farmako, said that the sector is “facing such rapid upheavals as, for example, the entertainment industry when Netflix became popular.”

Styling themselves as an equivalent to the digital streaming giant, Farmako’s founders see their new patent as the great leap in biosynthetic cannabinoid production. “Our patent will revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry in cannabis as much as the biosynthesis of insulin,” Kouparanis adds.

Indeed, the team’s new method does boast impressive levels of production. The company claims that its Z. cannabinoidis bacteria can churn out over 180 cannabinoids and one production run can last for 900 hours without interruption, creating 4.5 kilograms of THC per gram of bacterial mass in the process. 

To match its ambitions, the German pharmaceutical giant recently agreed to import 50 tons of cannabis from the company Pharmacann Polska as part of the biggest cannabis contract ever signed. Over the next four years, the companies aim to bring the plant material into the European market to provide a “basis for a reliable supply of pharmaceutical cannabis for millions of patients in the European healthcare system.”

“The production of cannabinoids… will be synthetic in the future,” said Kouparanis. “With the patent application, we have now managed to remove a big question mark from the world as to exactly what this production looks like.”

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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