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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Terpene and isoprenoid biosynthesis in Cannabis sativa Booth, Judith

Abstract

Cannabis sativa (cannabis, marijuana, hemp) is a plant species grown widely for its psychoactive and medicinal properties. Cannabis products were made illegal in most of the world in the early 1900s, but regulations have recently been relaxed or lifted in some jurisdictions, notably Canada and parts of the United States. Cannabis is usually grown for the resin produced in trichomes on the flowers of female plants. The major components of that resin are isoprenoids: cannabinoids, monoterpenes, and sesquiterpenes. Terpene profiles in cannabis flowers can vary widely between cultivars. My research addresses the genomic underpinnings and biochemical mechanisms of terpene and cannabinoid biosynthesis in cannabis, and patterns of terpene accumulation between organs, developmental stages, and cultivars. Using metabolite profiling, I demonstrated that terpenes accumulate in floral trichomes over the course of development, and that terpene profiles in trichomes differ based on tissue and developmental stage. In this thesis, I describe the terpene profiles of seven cannabis cultivars. I identified and characterized 29 terpene synthase (TPS) genes and their encoded enzymes and describe the relationship between TPS expression and metabolite profiles. I describe trichome-specific transcriptomes for five cultivars and identify highly expressed genes common to cannabis trichomes. I also identified and describe an aromatic prenyltransferase responsible for biosynthesis of cannabigerolic acid, the branch-point intermediate in cannabinoid biosynthesis. Collectively, this thesis comprises a broad and detailed characterization of specialized isoprenoid biosynthesis in cannabis. The results provide new insights into mechanisms of terpene and cannabinoid biosynthesis, and the roles of different enzymes in determining the metabolite complement of cannabis trichomes.

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