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The characterization of key physiological traits of medicinal cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) as a tool for precision breeding

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posted on 02.08.2021, 03:11 by Erez Naim-FeilErez Naim-Feil, Luke W Pembleton, Laura E Spooner, Alix L Malthouse, Amy Miner, Melinda Quinn, Renata M Polotnianka, Rebecca C Baillie, German SpangenbergGerman Spangenberg, Noel CoganNoel Cogan
Abstract Background For millennia, drug-type cannabis strains were extensively used for various medicinal, ritual, and inebriant applications. However, cannabis prohibition during the last century led to cultivation and breeding activities being conducted under clandestine conditions, while scientific development of the crop ceased. Recently, the potential of medicinal cannabis has been reacknowledged and the now expanding industry requires optimal and scientifically characterized varieties. However, scientific knowledge that can propel this advancement is sorely lacking. To address this issue, the current study aims to provide a better understanding of key physiological and phenological traits that can facilitate the breeding of advanced cultivars. Results A diverse population of 121 genotypes of high-THC or balanced THC-CBD ratio was cultivated under a controlled environment facility and 13 plant parameters were measured. No physiological association across genotypes attributed to the same vernacular classification was observed. Floral bud dry weight was found to be positively associated with plant height and stem diameter but not with days to maturation. Furthermore, the heritability of both plant height and days to maturation was relatively high, but for plant height it decreased during the vegetative growth phase. To advance breeding efficacy, a prediction equation for forecasting floral bud dry weight was generated, driven by parameters that can be detected during the vegetative growth phase solely. Conclusions Our findings suggest that selection for taller and fast-growing genotypes is likely to lead to an increase in floral bud productivity. It was also found that the final plant height and stem diameter are determined by 5 independent factors that can be used to maximize productivity through cultivation adjustments. The proposed prediction equation can facilitate the selection of prolific genotypes without the completion of a full cultivation cycle. Future studies that will associate genome-wide variation with plants morphological traits and cannabinoid profile will enable precise and accelerated breeding through genomic selection approaches.


This work was funded by Agriculture Victoria and Agriculture Victoria Services Pty Ltd, Australia, two departments of the Victorian government. The funding bodies covered all staff, student and project costs but were not involved in the design, collection, analysis and interpretation of the data or the preparation of the manuscript.


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