Applied DNA Sciences (APDN) wants to use DNA tagging to track and verify cannabis strains. It wants to do for the cannabis industry what it did for the cotton industry – assure consumers that they are getting what they pay for. This Stony Brook, NY company has the ability to use DNA tagging to keep supply chains from being corrupted and make sure products are honest.
The Pima cotton story is the best way to explain this technology and why the company wants to apply the same process to the cannabis industry. Applied DNA Sciences began testing cotton products and realized consumers were spending extra money to purchase what they thought were premium cotton products called Pima. The makers of these Pima cotton sheets, towels and apparel believed that they were selling Pima products until it was proven that they weren’t. But whether it was the farmer or the factories in China that began blending non-Pima fibers into the finished product, the end result was that customers weren’t getting the Pima cotton they were paying for.
Applied DNA Sciences now tags most cotton following the harvest and then tests fibers, yarns, fabrics and even the finished product. Manufactures and consumers can now trust that whatever Pima cotton product they are buying, it is, in fact, a Pima cotton product.
That strain pride exists in the cannabis industry as well. Cannabis cultivators create and develop specific branded strains. Likewise, customers are very fond of popular strains like Blue Dream, Girl Scott Cookies or GG#4. The question is whether the cultivators are actually growing what they think they are growing and are the customers really getting the strain they think they are buying?
Canadian researchers from the University of British Columbia along with Sean Myles, a population geneticist at Dalhousie University conducted a strain study. They found only a moderate correlation between the marijuana reported by cultivators and the ancestry claimed. For example, a sample of Jamaican Lambs Bread, which is classified as cannabis sativa, was almost identical at a genetic level to a cannabis indica strain from Afghanistan. “Cannabis breeders and growers often indicate the percentage of Sativa or Indica in a cannabis strain, but they are not very accurate,” Page explained.
This could be avoided says Applied DNA Sciences. The company can apply a molecular tag to the plant which is unique to each cultivator. This is becoming increasingly important as farms invest thousands into their brands and they want to try to protect their strains as master growers move amongst different companies. This tag can be detected in plant material before and after drying. Their product is called CertainT.
“We knew we could spray the plant. We had done it with cotton, but we didn’t know what would happen after the processing of the plant,” said Gordon Hope, Director of Security Solutions. The company is now testing edible products to make sure the DNA tag can withstand the heating process during cooking.
A DNA tagging process could do that.With the CertainT tag, a manufacturer can be assured that the plant it buys from a cultivator is in fact what they believe they are buying. A customer can be certain that the strain they are purchasing is, in fact, that strain. The process can also be used to assist in regulatory compliance so that authorities can determine the origin of the product. Right now, the product on a shelf in a New York dispensary can be tracked by a seed-to-sale program but there is no way for the state to verify that the product was in fact grown in New York. A DNA tagging process could do that.
The tag can’t be compromised or copied. Even the U.S. Department of Defense relies on these tags to ensure the integrity of critical components such as lubricating oil or specific engine parts.
“They’ve got millions invested. They’re trying to protect their intellectual property, their trade secrets, their knowledge and their know-how,” said Hope. “Remember, most people can’t see the grow operations.” Hope also said that the medical marijuana companies he spoke to told him that their biggest problem is consistency. “Medical marijuana producers are very much concerned with consistency for their patients,” he said. “Large pharmaceutical companies don’t have this issue, but its critical for patients taking medical marijuana to know they are getting the exact same medicine for every dose.”
The company said it is sensitive to not adding a burden to the system. John Shearman Director of Marketing said, “We can be a nice overlay to provide that comfortable feeling and brand recognition.” They want to make it easy to run a test to verify a product’s origin. “A processor could be mixing in products that a brand isn’t able to verify and check,” he said.
In addition to helping processors and manufacturers, DNA Tagging can also help with regulatory authorities. The state should be able to check the product to make sure it is what it says it is. “If you want transparency in your system, you have no real way to assure that,” said Hope. “Everywhere along the supply chain, there is a chance for diversion. It could take 20 minutes to do the test. Even a dispensary could do the test on the product.”
Applied DNA Sciences currently has over 60 employees with 53 issued patents and 75 patent applications pending. The company has been testing its CertainT on cannabis in the state of Michigan where medical marijuana has been legal since 2008.
“The good news is you need very little DNA,” said Hope. “It’s a critical element missing from seed to sale chain.”