Israeli Researchers Use Virus to Boost THC Levels

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JERUSALEM – Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers have used a plant virus to engineer a cannabis strain with higher levels of THC and other medically important substances.

Researchers led by Alexander Vainstein increased the levels of the primary psychoactive component by nearly 17 percent and the level of cannabigerol (CBG), often referred to as “the mother of all cannabinoids,” by nearly 25 percent. The team also increased the ratio of terpenes by 20 to 30 percent. Terpenes maximize euphoric effects.


The team’s findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers sought to intervene in the plant’s biochemical pathways to increase or decrease production of active substances. They succeeded by first manipulating a neutralized plant-based virus so it could not harm the plant and then inoculating plants in an effort to affect the genes that influence production of active substances. The feat is believed to be the first of its kind using synthetic biology.

Until now, there was no method to tailor strains to produce specific substances or alter the ratio between them. According to Vainstein, “these study results will be valuable both to industry to increase the yield of active substances, and to medical researchers to cultivate and develop new strains for medical cannabis users.”

More extensive experiments with the engineered strain are underway. Vainstein expects results “in the next few months.”

The research team received funding from Mariana Bioscience Ltd., a global pioneer in genetic cannabis research.