The process used to brew beer and bake bread could prove to be groundbreaking for cannabis researchers. And a growing number of biotech companies are betting on the process to help them more cost-effectively produce cannabinoids, or the compounds found in cannabis.
Demetrix is one of those companies. Jeff Ubersax, the CEO of Demetrix, an Emeryville, California-based biotech company that is researching yeast-derived cannabinoids, said the company has a yeast strain that is able to produce cannabinoids at a lower cost than more traditional agricultural methods.
“How do we use biotechnology to make these compounds that have been present in the plant for a really long time?” he told Cannabis Wire. The process could help them access cannabinoids present at low levels in the plant, which are understudied because they are difficult to access, he added.
Demetrix was co-founded by Jay Keasling, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and co-author of a study in the journal Nature published in February on yeast-derived cannabinoids. The scientists in Keasling’s lab were able to use brewer’s yeast to produce CBD and THC. Demetrix licenses technology from Keasling’s lab at Berkeley.
The process holds “the possibility of new therapies based on novel cannabinoids: the rare ones that are nearly impossible to get from the plant, or the unnatural ones, which are impossible to get from the plant,” Keasling said in a UC Berkeley announcement about the research.
Another company founded by Keasling, the biotech company Amyris, is now working on yeast cannabinoids. Rare cannabinoids would be too expensive to access via more traditional agricultural methods, said Sunil Chandran, vice president and head of research and development at Amyris.
“There are numerous cannabinoids that might have therapeutic properties, but which are produced in extremely low amounts in the plant, thereby making their production/purification cost-prohibitive,” Chandran told Cannabis Wire in an email.
But there are also other benefits to using yeast. For instance, Amyris doesn’t have to rely on crop yields, so its production isn’t impacted by volatile growth seasons or climate change, Chandran added. The biotech is using yeast and sugarcane to produce a fermentation broth that is primarily CBD. The company plans to deliver twenty or more pure cannabinoids in the next few years using this method, he said.
One of the major benefits to using yeast is the amount of time it takes, said Kevin Chen, CEO and co-founder of Hyasynth