Between promising studies regarding the medical uses of cannabis and it’s obvious recreational use, the legitimization of marijuana for mainstream consumption appears to be a forgone conclusion, with four states already having decriminalized the drug, and many more eyeing similar legislation. But along with mainstream acceptance of a given substance also comes the pitfall of corporate meddling: cannabis, being a biological organism, runs the risk of having agriculture companies like Monsanto patenting the plant’s genes, a move that would allow them to have legal authority over who gets to grow the plant.
To counter this blunt potentiality, a budding biotech startup called Phylos Bioscience has created a 3D map they call "The Galaxy" that traces the evolution of the myriad strains of cannabis that have been bred over the plant’s history. If genetic mappings such as this have been in the public domain for over a year, companies can’t claim patents against them.
The map itself took two years to plot out, and required genetic sequencing from each of the known strains of the plant. "Sample collection was a huge part of this process," says Phylos’s sales and marketing manger, Carolyn White. "One side was a collaboration with growers, dispensaries and labs to collect modern samples, and the other a process of hunting down ancient landrace strains from all over the world."
Monsanto has officially said that it has no plans to produce their own cannabis plants, but White thinks that if the crop becomes lucrative enough, these companies could easily find a new interest in this different sort of weed, to feed their chronic addiction to profits. "We think Big Pharma and Big Ag will be the primary audience after patents, and it will likely require writing new DNA in to the plant. None of the folks at Phylos really see patenting as a viable tool for the average breeder."