A true strange fact for marijuana lovers: they owe the high times with the world’s most popular illegal drug to viruses. Specifically, what has been discovered is that ancient viruses brought the genes for making THC into plants.
The enzymes … making THC and CBD are encoded by THCA and CBDA synthase genes, respectively. Both are found on chromosome 6 of the ten chromosomes the cannabis genome is packaged into. There, the enzyme genes are surrounded by vast swathes of garbled DNA which came from viruses that colonized the genome millions of years ago. This viral DNA, or retroelements as it is known, made copies of itself that spread across the genome by jumping into other sites in the host cell’s DNA.
… The gene sequences for the THCA and CBDA synthases are nearly identical supporting the idea that they come from the same gene which was duplicated millions of years ago. Over time, one or both gene copies became scrambled by invading retroelements, and by evolving separately, they eventually came to produce two different enzymes — CBDA synthase found in hemp (fibre-type), and THCA synthase in drug-type (marijuana).
Because the enzymes are so similar at the DNA level, until this study it was not even clear if they are encoded by separate genes or by two versions of the same gene. Adding to the confusion was the fact that most strains produce both CBD and THC despite breeders’ efforts to grow hemp varieties free from the mind-altering THC for users looking to avoid it. …
The chromosome map now clearly shows that two distinct genes are at play which should make it possible to separate them during breeding to grow plants without THC. Some psychoactive effects in medical strains could be coming from CBC, a lesser known cannabinoid that has unusual pharmacology including anti-inflammatory properties. The discovery of the gene responsible for CBC synthesis will make it possible for breeders to tailor its content in future varieties.
The two different strains of the Cannabis sativa plant species come from two different genes which give different forms of enzymes to make THC.
Polymorphisms of THCA synthase result in varying levels of THC in Cannabis plants, resulting in “drug-type” and “fiber-type” C. sativa varieties.
Where did the viruses get the THC making genes in the first place? Perhaps from some of our ancestors with spines since the human brain and other animals in phylum Chordata have cannabinoid receptor systems.
Cannabinoid receptors, located throughout the body, are part of the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in a variety of physiological processes including appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory.
April 2009: Scientists have just shown that one of Bob Dylan’s most famous lines–“everybody must get stoned”– is correct. That’s because they’ve discovered that the brain manufactures proteins that act like marijuana at specific receptors in the brain itself. …
“The War on Drugs has hit very close to home,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Last year, scientists found that our skin makes its own marijuana-like substance. Now, we see that our brain has been making proteins that act directly on the marijuana receptors in our head.
In the skin, explained lead researcher Tamás Bíró of the University of Debrecen, Hungary, these compounds help the sebaceous glands protect us from harsh outer elements, such as the drying effects of wind and sun. Cannabinoids are thought to have a similar role in the leaves of the marijuana plant.
Among its protective functions, “endo-pot” stimulates oil production and tells hair follicles to stop producing hair.
Could the THC genes be added to a different plant instead?
It seems so. This is from 9 years ago in the American Buddhist Net News:
DNA Scientists: THC Gene “Easily Transferred to Tomato, Cucumber, and Other Common Garden Plants”
June 1, 2009
Oakdale, CA: Scientists at Montsaint Genie Tech Inc. announced today that they have successfully transferred the gene segment that produces the psychotropic chemical THC in cannabis plants to many other common garden plants, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, and more.
“We probably can put the THC segment into almost any plant in existence,” says lead scientist Rebeca Vale. “It’s a very simple process. We are starting work on oak and maple trees now.”
Asked if the resulting plants could be used in ways similar to cannabis, Vale replied, “Well, you can’t make twine out of a tomato plant, but if someone were to dry it and smoke it, all of the medicinal and psychotropic effects of marijuana would be present. And what’s more, we have learned that tomatoes, in particular, actually produce more THC than cannabis itself.”
But is it legal? “Actually, yes,” says Vale. “Our research qualifies as GMO ‘intellectual property’, as does the process itself. Since tomatoes and other plants are not illegal, a person would be well within the law to grow them and use them as they please.”
Vale says that her company is working on a spray that will transfer the segment to many plants simply by spraying the leaves of seedlings.
Instant DNA-Altering Sprays?
Sprays that alter seedling DNA are supposedly on their way.
“A spray can be used immediately without having to go through the years involved in development of a GM or conventionally bred crop,” says David Baulcombe at the University of Cambridge, who studies gene silencing in plants. …
Companies like Monsanto are already developing gene-silencing sprays that get inside bugs and kill them by disabling vital genes…. many genetically modified plants work by producing gene-silencing RNAs. What is more, it has been discovered that specific genes can be shut down in some – although not all – bugs and plants simply by spraying them with small double-stranded RNAs with sequences matching the genes.
Monsanto, for instance, is developing RNAi sprays that kill pests. Its spray targeting the varroa mites contributing to the woes of bees is now entering the final stages of development, the company revealed on 5 January.
One challenge with the spray approach is that the effects on plants last only a few days because unprotected RNAs soon break down. Farmers will not want to apply expensive sprays this often.
In experiments with tobacco plants, Mitter’s team has now shown it can make the protective effect last at least 20 days. This was achieved by combining the RNAs with clay nanoparticles developed by her colleague Gordon Xu.
The positively charged clay nanoparticles, made of stacked sheets of common minerals such as magnesium chloride, bind and protect the negatively charged RNAs. Over time, the clay particles react with carbon dioxide and break down, slowly releasing the RNAs. … Gene-silencing sprays should be far safer than ordinary pesticides.
“Should be” according to what or whom?
RNAs cannot pass through human skin and are rapidly broken down in the body. While one 2012 study claimed some of the plant RNAs present in the food we eat already could affect human genes, several follow-up studies have found no evidence of any such effect.
Studies may not find what they are funded to not find, and correct me if I’m misunderstanding, but there is still the fact that we, as eukaryotes exist due to early horizontal gene transfer.
Via Horizontal Gene Transfer
What are you going to do today without your mitochondria? Not much, to be sure.
… go back about two billion years to a time when none of the complexity of life as we see it today existed. … Our primordial ancestor was a simple single-celled creature, living in a long-term rut of evolutionary stagnation. Then something dramatic happened – an event that would literally breathe life into the eventual evolution of complex organisms. One of the cells engulfed another and enslaved it as a perpetual source of energy for its host.
The increase in available energy to the cell powered the formation of more complex organisms with multiple cells, eyes, and brains. Slowly, the two species became intertwined – sharing some of their DNA and delegating specific cellular tasks – until eventually they became firmly hardwired to each other to form the most intimate of biological relationships. Two separate species became one.
Without a science education, voters are easily misled. It should be basic knowledge that we are all hybrids of several different species, species that shared DNA to become us. (Examples: Our immunity to viruses comes from another species, Neanderthal Man. Pleasure seeking addiction genes were added to us by a virus, a fragment of viral DNA, dubbed HK2, near our genes which underpin the brain’s reward system, and more. We are each a genetic hodge podge.)
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT), or the transfer of genes between species, has been recognized recently as more pervasive than previously suspected.
Available data indicate that no insurmountable barrier to HGT exists, even in complex multicellular eukaryotes. In addition, the discovery of both recent and ancient HGT events in all major eukaryotic groups suggests that HGT has been a regular occurrence throughout the history of eukaryotic evolution.
All life on earth, including us, is a genetic modification of the original “life.”
Here’s a reasonable guess as to how life first appeared on earth: First, materials for DNA arrived on our early lifeless planet from space. The building blocks of DNA have been confirmed to exist in extraterrestrial meteorites, researchers announced. (Aug 8, 2011) Next, there were many volcanoes on the early earth, including under water, which provided heat and circulation of raw materials.
Life could have started as a chemical soup, with simple fat molecules (lipids) eventually sticking together to form spheres. As these lipid spheres were circulating from hot to cold areas near thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, they would expand due to the heat and then take in some random junk through gaps in the membrane, including DNA or RNA precursor molecules. As they floated on the currents to the cooler areas, they would contract, trapping the molecules they “ate” earlier. When their insides eventually formed DNA/RNA due to simple atomic forces and started self replicating for the same reason, the spheres grew from the inside and split again when they got heated from the outside. And on it went, gaining complexity. By this theory, the first DNA was just random, but natural selection caused certain patterns to persist, specifically the ones that made lipid balls (proto-cells) fill up with DNA/RNA and split due to the inner pressure of the forming structures. Single layer membranes eventually became double layers, etc. The first thing our DNA could probably do was simply reproduce itself. What then?
A new theory proposes the primordial life-forms that gave rise to all life on Earth left deep-sea vents because of their “invention” of a tiny pump. These primitive cellular pumps would have powered life-giving chemical reactions.
The idea, detailed Dec. 20 in the journal Cell, could help explain two mysteries of life’s early origin: How did the earliest proto-cells power chemical reactions to make the organic building blocks of life; and how did they leave hydrothermal vents to colonize early Earth’s oceans?
A protocell (or protobiont) is a self-organized, endogenously ordered, spherical collection of lipids proposed as a stepping-stone toward the origin of life.
… The cell membrane is the only cellular structure that is found in all of the cells of all of the organisms on Earth.
Once we learn as a society and then as individuals to take genetic code from anywhere and everywhere, and even to invent new genes, as seems inevitable, we may not soon after recognize future humans so easily. Imagine popular genetic additions. Will it be super speed, strength, and rapid organ regeneration? Immortality, super eye-sight with night vision and super hearing? Camouflage skin? Think about it, would you trade looking odd with big bat-like ears for the ability to hear 20 times better? Some would.
If we move too quickly, we could mess up and accidentally obliterate our species. If we succeed, there could be a day where we are able to cure any current disease with a spray. Could we even survive in space without suits one day using Tardigrade genes? Interesting times ahead.
Reading Comprehension Quiz: Who read this while under the influence of cannabinoids?
Right, the answer is everybody.
While supporting decriminalization for both medical and recreational use, the smell of marijuana makes this author nauseous and he does not personally use it or recommend it as part of a healthy lifestyle.