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A pathogen called hop-latent viroid (HLVd) is infecting cannabis plants in California, causing significant damage to crops and potentially costing billions of dollars to the cannabis industry. HLVd shrivels plants, reduces their weight by up to 30%, and destroys the production of THC, the primary active compound in cannabis. This pathogen has spread to around 90% of California's cannabis farms and is a growing concern globally.

Oakland-based startup Purple City Labs has developed an on-site HLVd test that delivers results within a few hours, significantly faster than the current method of mailing samples to labs. This test allows farmers to quickly identify infected plants and potentially slow down the spread of HLVd. The test is user-friendly and does not require extensive expertise.

HLVd has likely been present in cannabis farms for over a decade, causing harm at the end of a crop's life cycle. It spreads silently and can remain undetected for months, making it challenging to control. The pathogen was first identified in hop plants and is now commonly found in hop farms, affecting the production of aromatic compounds used in beer flavoring.

Purple City Labs CEO Ali Bektaş, who has a Ph.D. in microbial ecology, recognized the need for a rapid diagnostic test for HLVd while working at Purple City Genetics. He developed a simple and cost-effective test based on LAMP technology, previously used for COVID-19 testing. The test has been successful in identifying HLVd in thousands of plants, prompting other farms to request its use.

Purple City Labs is now selling the HLVd test for $10 per test and expanding its reach worldwide. The technology has shown positive results, detecting HLVd in a cannabis sample from Spain. The test has the potential to aid in the prevention and control of this damaging pathogen in cannabis cultivation.


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