Paging Dr. Hope Jones…
Just like doctors in a hospital cannot help every patient (but you still get the hospital bill!), there are no guarantees in a cannabis genetics lab either. Dr. Jones and her team do anything they can to revive the world’s most sought-after cannabis genetics. Breeders fly in from around the country to share genetics and make them stronger.
It may be a rare strain from across the world needing to be preserved, or a top-producing strain that has fallen ill to deadly conditions like mildew, blight, wilt or root rot. Less deadly diseases like HLVd may not kill the plant, but will cause smaller vegetative growth and shorter, stubbier leaves. No matter the cause of sickness, Hope’s team can triage and begin treatment. Dr. Hope Jones is aptly named, because she is literally the only hope at this point for a hurting cannabis plant.
By holding cannabis clones in a controlled environment, Hope’s team can also help rejuvenate and replenish mother plant stock, which should be done quarterly. As more propagation teams learn this method of clone multiplication, they could eventually get rid of mother rooms altogether. For this to happen, we need more proper labs to handle the amount of cannabis clones that need to be produced, but this would be a huge step for cannabis. This would be significant because genetic sequencing and multiplication allow for molecular markers, which would guarantee the genetics of any plant being sold or traded. This guarantee will be essential for pharmaceutical companies, once cannabis becomes federally legalized and regulated by the FDA. I have learned what to expect from cannabis facilities and kitchens in Canada where cannabis is strictly regulated, and cannabis genetics are audited regularly. Each US state has laws about distributing cannabis genetics that will need to be evaluated and updated for cannabis facilities to meet FDA auditing standards.
Meristematic Cell treatment- Genetic Restoration
Plant diseases can show a number of symptoms of distress, which may be overlooked until it’s too late. However, using controlled environment agriculture (CEA), and extracting healthy meristematic cells for multiplication, Dr. Hope Jones can coax these female plants back to life and even full health. This regeneration process of meristematic cells can take many months, depending on how diseased the plant is.
Meristematic cells of the cannabis plant, which carry the genetic makeup of the plant, are not connected to the plant's vascular system. Meristematic cells can be isolated, and then nurtured into a new healthy plant. This regeneration process can take many months to bring a plant back to full health, where it can be cloned again easily.
Clients of First Kind Labs, in Tempe AZ, drop off tissue cultures like a patient at the hospital emergency room. The triage team sterilizes and assesses cannabis plants, before isolating living meristematic cells into the controlled agriculture environment of a petri dish. It’s possible to take DNA samples from an already diseased plant, because the meristematic cells are not connected to the plant’s vascular system. All disease in cannabis plants travels through the vascular system, and since these cells are not connected, the cells in these tiny nodes are unaffected by disease. Once the cells are isolated, they are placed into media containing differing ratios of macro and micronutrients.
Since the plant is being steered in this controlled environment, it does not photosynthesize, and the physiological system is not functioning during this stage. It’s not making its own androgonous hormones to initiate and regulate defense mechanisms, cell division, and pollination during this stage.
The next step is to introduce the plants to nutrients, which are proprietary ratios that have taken years to develop. To the untrained eye, they look like the plants are sitting in JELLO molds. I usually just call them blue, purple, green, and red etc. Each formula is designed to give the plant what it needs, and can be changed as often as needed.
Meristematic Regeneration stages:
Stage 0: This beginning stage involves the triage process, and then working to sterilize and clean the diseased plant before nodes are dissected and placed into a petri dish to grow.
The petri dishes are transferred from stage zero to stage one. Stage one involves the node dissection under the clean hood to remove the healthy stematic cells from the diseased plant. This step has to be done in a dust-free environment. Any foreign materials in the petri dish can affect the plant's chances of survival.
Once the node starts to multiply in the petri dish and the leaves and shoots become larger, the dish is moved into stage two where nutrients are added to each node separately to strengthen the plant nodes.
The strongest shoots are taken and placed in rooting media for multiplication. This is when the plant is introduced back into the multiplication stage, where it will start to develop healthy nodes on each lateral branch for cloning. The best ones will each become a new healthy plant. Four to six healthy plants can be born from this process, and the multiplication process can be repeated about every four weeks. Stage three tissue cultures can be shipped easily to a grow facility, where propagators can root the clones… and off they go!
This stage is hardening and acclimation. During this last stage, the plant becomes the healthiest version of itself, and is ready to be released back into its new environment outside of the lab.
Hope Jones got out of bartending, and serendipitously started working at a plant nursery, where she only planned to learn about plants that she might like in her new home. This fascination developed into a love of plant anatomy, and then a full time academic career. Her experience involves growing plants in controlled environments for NASA research in space.
While presenting at the University of Arizona, Dr. Jones was the first academic speaker allowed to use the C word… “Cannabis”.
Before the federal farm hemp bill passed, if you worked academically with cannabis plants, they were referred to in research papers and lectures as “medicinal plants”.
First Kind Labs offers pheno-hunting services that can even test the early chemical profile of cannabinoids within the first weeks of germination. The HPLC Molecular program can test for sex, do disease analysis, and help avoid any problems down the road after gemination. This can be done within about two weeks of germination, to help root out the best and worst specimens of genetics. After about four weeks of samples, they can see the true make-up of about 50 cannabinoids. As the plant grows, the levels of cannabinoids will increase, but the genetic makeup will stay the same. By checking the early chemical profile, they can determine which terpenes will be most prevalent.
In our next article collaborations with the team at First Kind Labs, we will be providing tips to grow successful cannabis at home: germinating your own cannabis seeds, how to start a plant from a seed, what kind of soil and how deep to pot, and how to root and feed newly-germinated cannabis seeds.
Thank you to Dr. Hope Jones, and the team at First Kind Labs in Tempe, AZ.