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Yeast produce low-cost, high-quality cannabinoids

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Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have bioengineered yeast to produce THC and CBD, the two main ingredients in cannabis. Researchers also engineered the yeast to synthesize novel cannabinoids not found in the marijuana plant.

THC is the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, while CBD is the non-psychoactive compound. Studies have shown both have medicinal qualities, which is why many states have legalized medical pot.

Makers of THC and CBD products currently rely on expensive extraction methods to access the cannabis compounds, but the latest breakthrough suggests a cheaper, more efficient production method.

“For the consumer, the benefits are high-quality, low-cost CBD and THC: you get exactly what you want from yeast,” Jay Keasling, a professor of bioengineering at UC Berkeley, said in a news release. “It is a safer, more environmentally friendly way to produce cannabinoids.”

While more and more research into the medicinal benefits of CBD and THC is being conducted, analysis of other cannabinoids, compounds found in Cannabis sativa in only tiny qualities, is difficult.

According to the new study, published this week in the journal Nature, the latest breakthrough offers “the possibility of new therapies based on novel cannabinoids: the rare ones that are nearly impossible to get from the plant, or the unnatural ones, which are impossible to get from the plant.”

The chemical extraction process is responsible for a variety of environmental problems, including high levels of energy use and the production of toxic byproducts. Extracting chemicals from pot plants, of course, requires marijuana cultivation, another industry with a problematic environmental track record.

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