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This scientist has made the 'world's biggest' weed DNA database so the quality of cannabis will become more consistent


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Cannabis has enjoyed a very strong 2016, becoming legal in many American states and countries across the world – a trend that looks to continue into 2017. As a result, new strains are being created at an incredible rate.

But Mowgli Holmes, a former HIV researcher, believes we’re just getting started.

“When we understand this plant better we’re going to be able to help breeders make absolutely crazy, wild weed,” Holmes told Vocativ. “There’s going to be cannabis around that would be unthinkable today.”

The scientist co-founded Phylos Bioscience two years ago and is on a mission with his colleagues to sequence the DNA of every weed strain in the world.

On the Phylos website you can already find what’s dubbed the Galaxy – an interactive map of every strain they’ve sequenced so far, with genetically similar strains clustered together. It also comes with a short tutorial, which makes the thousand-plus varieties of weed it contains slightly less daunting.

There’s even a journey mode, taking you through each strain, what combinations it might be made from, and the dispensary it was created in. Despite the volume of the map there are still thousands of strains left to be catalogued.

The people behind the venture hope their work can bring more consistency to the recreational and especially medical marijuana businesses, by ensuring all strains being sold as the same thing are actually the same thing.

The company has started marketing a genetic testing kit, which it hopes will become the industry standard.

The Phylos galaxy of the world's biggest weed DNA database
(Phylos Galaxy)

There are fears among some sellers though that the database could make it easier for large agriculture and pharmaceutical businesses to take over the industry and patent seeds and strains, much like Monsanto controversially does.

“We f****** hate Monsanto,” Holmes said. “If we can’t find a way to create a craft, artisanal industry, where lots of little people who really lavish love on interesting plants can be involved, and we just get this Anheuser-Busch industry, it’s going to suck.”

The 44-year-old instead hopes that Phylos can work with independent and small breeders to create new strains, and take weed to a place higher than it has ever gone in its 10,000 year history with humans. They’ve also made all their data available to the Open Cannabis Project, who work to make sure cannabis strains remain in the public domain and cannot be patented.

“As plant scientists, that’s what we care about,” he said. “We want there to be crazy diversity. We want to preserve all the outrageous diversity that’s out there and we want people to make more.”

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