Green Weed

Scientists Gene-Hacked Yeast to Make THC Instead of Booze

All you have to do is feed it some sugar.

2. 27. 19 / Victor Tangermann
Alexandra/Brent Barnett/Tag Hartman-Simkins
Image by Alexandra/Brent Barnett/Tag Hartman-Simkins

Yeast High

A team of researchers at UC Berkeley figured out a way to manufacture tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) — both products derived from the cannabis plant — from specially bioengineered yeast, according to Wired.

By injecting cannabis sativa plant genes into common brewer’s yeast, which is the stuff that turns sugars into alcohol during the beermaking process, the yeast started spitting out cannabinoids as well, including THC — the psychoactive one — and CBD. In other words, the breakthrough could lead to beer that gets you high.

Sticky Business

It could also be a big deal for the environment.

Planting, growing, and harvesting cannabinoids from large numbers of cannabis plants isn’t as energy efficient as simply cultivating yeast. One 2012 study suggested three percent of California’s total electricity usage was used to grow cannabis — a staggering figure.


The process could even prove to be more reliable: “For the consumer, the benefits are high-quality, low-cost CBD and THC: you get exactly what you want from yeast,” said Jay Keasling, a UC Berkeley professor, in a statement. “It is a safer, more environmentally friendly way to produce cannabinoids.”

Brewing Pot

Enzymes inside the yeast first produce CBDA and THCA, which are precursors to CBD and THC, respectively. Once those substances are heated up, you’ve got CBD and THC — the same thing that happens when you light a joint or bake weed brownies.

The process is simpler than growing a plant, and could even allow for just producing CBD.

“Being able to produce that in a way that’s uncontaminated with THC is a pretty valuable thing,” said Keasling.


READ MORE: Forget Growing Weed—Make Yeast Spit Out CBD and THC Instead [Wired]

More on cannabis: Legal Marijuana Could Threaten the Alcohol Industry, Says Report

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