Pioneering ‘Superhemp’

The ultimate goal is to provide breeders with tools to create what Professor Pat Hayes refers to as “superhemp.”


hile plant breeding has occurred for thousands of years, the latest science in breeding continues to evolve. Now that hemp has been newly decriminalized there is a strong desire for researchers and industry leaders to apply some of those innovative scientific discoveries to hemp.

To aid in that effort, a recent $988,000 grant has been provided by Oregon CBD – a national hemp seed producer – to fund the latest in the science of accelerated hemp breeding at Oregon State University’s Global Hemp Innovation Center (GHIC). Within the Center, crop and soil science researchers are leading efforts to deepen understanding of hemp genomics and accelerated breeding under the direction of GHIC’s director Jay Noller and Professor Patrick Hayes of the OSU Barley Project.

“Accelerated hemp breeding, in general, is in relative infancy compared with other crops and plants that have been studied for decades,” Hayes said. “It’s exciting to be on the ground floor of discovery for this newly decriminalized plant.”

The thrust of the accelerated breeding research Hayes’s lab will lead aims to develop methods for hemp breeders to more efficiently achieve higher yields and improved quality. By combining the best traits of current strains into a newer, stronger crop, the ultimate goal is to provide breeders with tools to create what Hayes refers to as “superhemp.”

This is the second contribution to hemp research that Oregon CBD has provided OSU’s GHIC. The first was a $1 million gift made in September for genetics research led by Kelly Vining, assistant professor and researcher in OSU’s Department of Horticulture.

“The opportunity for research in the field of hemp is nearly limitless,” said Noller. “It is truly like being on the frontier of the Wild West in terms of the potential for research in hemp. We are still just at the beginning. Support from industry leaders like Oregon CBD is critical to realize that potential.”

Commonplace in large-scale crop production, research breeding often uses a doubled haploid approach, or accelerated breeding, to develop “super” breeds.

Some of the characteristics of the “super” hemp plant include disease resistance, productivity, and higher levels of CBD and other compounds.

“This technology greatly speeds up the time required to produce ’parent’ lines for these new strains or hybrids by saving years of growing time,” Hayes said.

How Haploids Work

Haploid breeding follows basic genetics for sexual reproduction, with one set of chromosomes coming from each of the two types of sex organs of a plant. These single sets of unfertilized chromosomes are called “haploid” cells. Once two of these cells are successfully combined into one double set of chromosomes, a “diploid” cell is created. The acceleration dimension of doubled haploid technology then comes from capturing haploid cells from selected crosses, doubling their chromosome number, and in doing so producing “instant inbred” plants from these cells. These doubled haploid plant varieties can be used to facilitate maintenance of pure lines, to produce hybrids, and to implement other molecular breeding strategies.

According to Hayes, this approach to breeding is widely used and accomplishes in one year what could otherwise require years of plant breeding work.

An alternative, or complement, to doubled haploid production is speed breeding – a technique in which multiple cycles of self-pollination are achieved by manipulating growth and culture conditions. The outcomes of speed breeding and doubled haploid production are, in terms of the accelerated approach to inbreeding, the same.

The Challenge

But there is a challenge to this research when it comes to hemp.

According to Hayes, doubled haploid technology is typically deployed with plants which have both sex organs in the same flower (like barley) or on the same plant (like corn). Hemp is a cross-pollinator, meaning it has separate male and female plants. Female plants can be manipulated to produce male and female flowers. This manipulation will be essential for accelerated hemp breeding. Yet, Hayes points out, “cross-pollinators such as hemp are not terribly fond of in-breeding.”

The Opportunity

Hayes said because female hemp plants produce significantly higher quantities of cannabinoids (CBD) than male flowers, they yield a much higher market demand. For this reason, the long-term goal is to achieve inbreds and hybrids that are female only. Only under experimental conditions would the capacity to produce male plants be invoked.

Written by Lauren Sankovitch
Video: Ben Davis

Write a response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Oregon State University ©Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.