On the rise: Ryerson students look to replace grow-ops with cannabis-producing yeast

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Five Ryerson PhD students are hoping to change the way the world produces marijuana.

Instead of planting seeds and pouring time and money into costly grow-ops, Biofect Innovations, the company formed by the students, wants to use baker’s yeast to produce THC, CBD or any number of other cannabinoids found in cannabis.

The idea is to modify yeast at a genetic level to make it capable of producing the chemicals needed to produce cannabis in a lab. If they are successful, cannabis could be produced in a fraction of the space currently required — a single factory could replace hundreds of acres of crops

“We started looking at our collective expertise and said, ‘Okay, we know how to engineer DNA, we know how to tweak it at a molecular level,” said Louis Lo, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Biofect. “And while drinking a beer together, we started asking ourselves, ‘Why don’t we manipulate yeast?’”

In addition to taking far less of a toll on the environment, the extraction process would be easier, said Christian Delos Santos, co-founder and CEO of the company. “Yeast can be engineered to produce only THC or CBD, or another compound altogether. Instead of having to extract it and separate it from hundreds of other compounds, you have this single source,” he said.

“And while drinking a beer together, we started asking ourselves, ‘Why don’t we manipulate yeast?’” / Photo: ViewApart/iStock/Getty Images Plus ViewApart / iStock / Getty Images Plus

This could open the door to the easy creation and extraction of cannabinoids that are mostly unknown. “Currently, because it’s only economically sensible to harvest THC and CBD, hundreds of potentially therapeutic cannabinoids are being overlooked,” Lo said.

“We have no idea what the benefits of the other cannabinoids are, so this could open the door to new research. The idea is that, hopefully, some of these compounds will lead to new and better medicines.”

Working out of Ryerson’s Science Discovery Zone, Delos Santos said the team is at a critical phase in the development of the product and anticipates forming business partnerships soon.

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