Dewey Scientific aims to bring sophisticated research methods to the cannabis industry
For years, cannabis cultivation has been more art than science. Breeders and legacy growers developed varieties and produced crops without the tools or experience of professional biochemists and genetics experts.
But with commercial legalization jumping from one state to the next, several companies have joined the race to fine-tune the cannabis genome and bring 21st century techniques into the evolving space. Dewey Scientific is among these relative newcomers — a company with academic chops rather than decades of hands-on experience specifically in cannabis cultivation. The company’s three co-founders — CEO Jordan Zager, chief science officer Mark Lange and director of research Paul Mihalyov — all have doctorates in plant sciences.
“Over the last decade, the cost of sequencing the plant genome has dropped tremendously,” Zager says, “so it’s allowed for a lot of advancements in how we can selectively breed, based on genetic information, not just what it looks like or what it’s producing.”
The company, which now employs about a dozen people, moved into its Pullman, Washington facility in November 2018 and works with clients in the hemp and marijuana spaces with the goal of producing more consistent and higher-yielding cannabis crops that are tailored for their region’s climate.
Marijuana Venture: What does starting a “cannabis genomics” company entail?
Jordan Zager: A lot of farmers don’t necessarily have scientific expertise, and we’re dealing with a plant that has been ignored for decades from a scientific standpoint, so we’re trying to catch the industry up to other plant-based industries.
There are other cannabis genomics companies out there, but most of them are just starting to look at the surface level of the genome. Our RNA-based analysis is much deeper. It gives you a snapshot of gene expression, as opposed to just gene presence, which is what DNA sequencing does. RNA sequencing tells you what genes are there and how strongly they are turned on at a given point in time.
Paul Mihalyov: One thing we’re able to do is flash-freeze a cannabis flower and isolate the live trichome cells, extract the RNA and sequence it. We’re basically able to look at gene regulation in the cell types that are producing cannabinoids and terpenoids.