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CRISPR: What the hell is it and why does it matter?


Hey guys,

I thought I’d take a slightly different approach to talk about the latest news on CRISPR patents.

CRISPR is basically the immune defense system of prokaryotic cells (the kinds without a nucleus or organelles). It seeks out viral DNA and chops it up. It’s similar to restriction enzymes, which also chop up viral DNA before it can infect bacterial cells.

Why is this relevant to cannabis? Well, restriction enzymes, and now CRISPR, are being used for genetic engineering. They cut DNA in specific regions and allow the insertion of desirable genes. What makes CRISPR particularly potent is that you can tell the CRISPR proteins exactly where on the DNA they should cut. Restriction enzymes have a nasty habit of chopping DNA into multiple pieces, which can be problematic for adding new genes.

The news portion of this comes in in the fact that a recent lawsuit has allowed for a patent of CRISPR to remain with the original filers. CRISPR is a revolutionary genomic editing tool, and the patent for it is now held by the Broad Institute.

What does this mean for the future of genetic engineering? It’s hard to say. It may make it more costly or harder to procure CRISPR. But it is important to note that a game-changer part of genetic engineering has been patented, and genetic engineering is relevant to all organisms, including cannabis.


Well that might make raising the mammoths a bit more interesting then…


Good podcast from Radiolab on CRISPR here:

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In my other design job, we just did a story about CRISPR. It’s in the upcoming issue of Earth Island Journal, available at your local foods co-op or specialty magazine store, or online subscription available at

Basically, the idea is to improve the odds of a genetic trait so it takes over the entire population. So you have a GMO modified mosquito, for example: normally, it would only pass on the gene to half of its offspring, which would mean very few have that trait. With crispr, you increase the odds, and within a few generations, everyone has that gene.

In the examples in our story, it was tested on malaria mosquitoes, they basically managed to get rid of the malaria mosquitoes in a few generations, which could be huge. But also kinda scary. Does changing the malaria gene change something else?

It’s fascinating stuff, scary as hell, but also oh so fascinating.


My biggest concern is always about what will fill the niche that has been emptied. If not malaria… then what?


supermalaria! :frowning:


Radiolab just did an updated story on CRISPR to follow on from their first one:


More CRISPR uses – fixing an annoying result of domestication.

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I wonder if these guys used CRISPR for their zero THC strain that they developed:


Some comedy from The Onion around gene editing:

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