Green Genes

IMAGE: Daniel Cole

In the winding curves south of I-405, across the street from the Oregon Health & Science University Integrity Office, the history of marijuana is being mapped. For 10,000 years, humans have carried this plant everywhere, but we still know astonishingly little about it. For the first time, its genetic lineage is being mapped; this means not only helping develop cures for disease, but also determining the tenor of your high with scientific certainty.

Mowgli Holmes, chief scientific officer at Phylos Bioscience, leads a team that is tackling a maze of crossbreeding and landraces, strains that were isolated in specific regions and adapted accordingly. Samples are culled and drawn from every available source.

“We’re testing everything we possibly can,” says Holmes, a molecular geneticist who has a doctorate in microbiology from Columbia University. “We’re testing samples from jars pulled directly off the shelf from a shop in Ohio, in 1937, after prohibition went into effect. The pharmacist stashed them away in his attic.”

I ask him for an example of a species the cannabis family tree will resemble. Apples? Grapes? He smiles.

“Humans,” he says.

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