Cannabis Tissue Culture 101: Everything You Need To Know

The process of cloning cannabis from mother plants is well-established and will continue to be preferred by home growers. But the cannabis industry is growing quickly, and large-scale cultivators are looking to advanced scientific processes to improve their operations. 

Enter cannabis tissue culture. Using practices adopted from big agriculture to grow orchidscotton, carrots, and tomatoes, this method virtually eliminates diseases and allows the uniform rapid multiplication of millions of cannabis plants. 

We’ll explain what cannabis tissue culture is and outline how to set up your own cannabis tissue culture operation. 

What Is Cannabis Tissue Culture? 

Tissue culturing cannabis is the practice of propagating fresh plants by taking cuttings of the juvenile vegetative material — the shoot tips. This plant material, called a plantlet, is then grown in a controlled and sterile environment, producing genetically identical clones. 

The plantlets are taken from the “mother plant” or a healthy, vigorously growing donor plant without any disease or symptoms. They are then disinfected/ surface sterilized and placed in an artificial growing medium to be multiplied in the lab. 

What Are the Benefits of Tissue Culture? 

There are many benefits to growing cannabis through tissue culture. 

Cleans plants at a source level

Successfully growing genetics through tissue culture means growers start with fully disease-free plants every growth cycle. The right equipment and knowledgeable staff help prevent diseases like the serious Hop Latent Viroid (HpLVd) and other viruses that can be passed down through clones and cuttings. 

By “cleaning” the stock, cultivators can rejuvenate old genetics, continue using previously-infected seed stock, and safeguard new plants with an unknown health history. This step involves meristem culture, indexing the mother plants for diseases and pathogens.

More consistent quality of plants

When growers use mother plants to produce their own “clone” version, these clones are inconsistent in quality. Plants have uncontrollable or diluted traits, making commercial growers unable to accurately forecast quality or production rates. Using the same mother plant for an extended time can reduce its vigor and make it more susceptible to disease and pathogen attack.

Tissue culture plantlets propagated correctly are a replica of their “mother,” so growers can accurately predict phenotypes and chemotypes without variation in the ideal stable environment. These plant strains are more predictable and vigorous, less wasteful, and produce higher yields. A grower can produce more consistent results by selecting an elite mother plant with a desirable pheno and chemotype.

Eliminates the need for a mother plant environment

When only using cuttings from their tissue culture lab, cultivators can repurpose or eliminate the mother and propagation rooms. This lets them manage hundreds of strains without having to dedicate the sizable space, money, and labor needed to keep the mother plants healthy and alive. 

Eliminating the mother room also helps the environment and cost of production. Growers cut out the significant volume of water needed to feed the mother plants. They also slash their energy bills because tissue culture requires much less light per square foot than mother plants. 

Reduces the risk of pests

Plantlets in tissue culture rooms are grown in a clean, sterile environment. Sanitary lab practices under ISO class 5 lab conditions call for the strict regulation of facilities, and plants are grown and delivered to retailers/growers in sealed plant packs. These protective measures ensure plants are kept in a sterile, pest-free environment. 

Plants propagate faster

Propagating from mother plants can take four to eight months. But because tissue culture production doesn’t require seeds or pollinators, the first stages are more efficient than traditional grows. 

Setting up a successful grow operation using tissue cultures can take more than a year. But once it’s established and the cultivator buys new tissue culture, they can produce a greater yield of each strain in less time. The multiplication ratio in the lab for propagation is faster. Theoretically, one shoot tip taken from the mother plant can produce unlimited plantlets in the lab.

The Cannabis Tissue Culture Process

In simple terms, here are the steps of tissue culturing cannabis. 

  1. Extraction: The grower cuts small plant shoot tips from their selected plant. Under a laminar flow hood, they dissect the shoots in desired lengths. The shoot tips are then surface sterilized to clean any microorganisms with different chemicals. 
  2. Incubation: Each sample is either placed in its own test tube or shares space in a larger culture vessel. The culture vessel is filled 1/5-full with tissue culture media — a sterile gelling agent containing nutrients and plant hormones. The grower seals each container and places it in an incubator under specific light conditions. 
  3. Plantlet development: With the right media containing micro and macro elements, an iron source, vitamins, and other additives and hormones, plantlets will eventually develop. These plantlets are transferred (known as subculturing) into a medium with root growth-promoting hormones to stimulate root growth. 
  4. Hardening: Once the plantlets have well-established roots, the grower hardens them under reduced light and high humidity. This allows the plantlets to survive harsh environments outside a climate-controlled lab. The grower then transfers them to an appropriate growing medium in the greenhouse.

Growing Cannabis Tissue Culture in the Lab

Cannabis tissue culture is worlds away from rural outdoor grow farms. Instead, the process requires careful planning, a professional with the proper scientific background, and patience. But this ingenious method of growing cannabis could have huge, positive implications for commercial growers. 

To learn the latest news in the cannabis industry and its implications for your health, check out the VidaCann blog

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