Under a microscope, cannabis appears like this.
The research has produced some visuals befitting a stoner’s phone background, but it has also shed some light on the structural underpinnings of cannabis’ psychotropic effects and distinctive aroma.
University of British Columbia (UBC) botanists examined a strain of Cannabis sativa known as “Finola” using a mix of cutting-edge microscopy methods and chemical profiling, as reported in The Plant Journal.
Their research supports the idea that the plant’s microscopic hair-like structures, particularly those that were plump and mushroom-shaped, are the best places to obtain sticky resins rich in cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (CBD). Technically referred to as trichomes, these structures serve as the principal producer of the terpenes that give the plant its distinctive aroma.
The cannabis plant has three known varieties of glandular trichomes: stalked, sessile, and bulbous. However, it is still unknown exactly what functions each structure does.
The fact that the plants were prohibited for a significant portion of recent history contributes to this ignorance. However, more scholarly study into this plant is being supported as a result of the recent easing of prohibitions in some regions of North America and the plant’s commercial significance.
In a statement, Sam Livingston, co-lead author and a PhD candidate in botany at the University of British Columbia, said, “We discovered that stalked glandular trichomes have expanded ‘cellular factories’ to generate more cannabinoids and fragrant terpenes.” We also discovered that they evolve from antecedents that resemble sessile plants and go through a significant change that can be seen with modern microscopy capabilities.
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Additionally, they looked at the genes involved in the creation of these coveted biochemical compounds using gene expression analysis. It was discovered that most terpenes and cannabinoids were produced by stalked trichomes.
Each stalked trichome, which appears bright blue in the photos, had 12 to 16 “pie-shaped” disc cells that appear to release the resinous, sticky material laced with cannabinoids. Smaller secretory discs and less fragrant terpenes appeared to be produced by the red, sessile trichomes that are smaller in size.
Principal investigator Anne Lacey Samuels, a professor of botany at UBC, remarked, “We discovered a treasure mine of genes that support the creation of cannabinoids and terpenes.”
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Trichomes store the metabolites in their cell walls, and it’s amazing that such high amounts of the product should be harmful to the cells. As a result, Livingston continued, “we want to understand how they manage this.”