Maikel de Bresser, Chief Operating Officer of F1 SeedTech, was a key participant in this research project titled “Cultivar-dependent phenotypic and chemotypic responses of drug-type Cannabis sativa L. to polyploidization.” Polyploidization is the condition where the cells of an organism have more than two paired sets of chromosomes, and its impact on Cannabis sativa is a relatively underexplored territory.
Cannabis sativa L. is a plant with a wide range of potential medicinal applications. In recent years, polyploidy has gained attention as a potential strategy for rapidly improving C. sativa, which, unlike other modern crops, has not yet benefitted from this established biotechnological application. Currently, no reports on high THCA and CBDA drug-type polyploid cultivars have been published. Moreover, it still needs to be clarified if different cultivars react similarly to polyploidization. For these reasons, we set out to evaluate and compare the phenotype and chemotype of three high Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and one high cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) drug-type cultivars in their diploid, triploid and tetraploid state through agronomic and metabolomic approaches. Our observations on plant morphology revealed a significant increase in plant height and leaf size with increasing ploidy levels in a cultivar-dependent manner. In contrast, cannabinoids were negatively affected by polyploidization, with the concentration of total cannabinoids, THCA, CBDA and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) decreasing significantly in higher ploidy levels across all four cultivars. Headspace analysis of volatiles revealed that total volatile content decreased in triploids. On the other hand, tetraploids reacted differently depending on the cultivars. Two THCA dominant cultivars showed an increase in concentrations, while in the other two cultivars, concentrations decreased. Additionally, several rare compounds not present in diploids appeared in higher ploidy levels. Moreover, in one high THCA cultivar, a couple of elite tetraploid genotypes for cannabinoid and volatile production were identified, highlighting the role of cultivar and genotypic variability as an important factor in Cannabis sativa L. polyploids. Overall, our observations on plant morphology align with the giga phenotype observed in polyploids of other plant species. The decrease in cannabinoids and volatiles production in triploids have relevant implications regarding their commercial use. On the other hand, this study found that tetraploidization is a suitable approach to improve Cannabis sativa L. medicinal potential, although the response is cultivar and genotype-dependent. This work lays the ground for further improving, evaluating and harnessing Cannabis sativa L. chemical diversity by the breeding, biotechnological and pharmaceutical sectors.