Gene duplication and divergence affecting drug content in Cannabis sativa

George D Weiblen, Jonathan P Wenger, Kathleen J. Craft, Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Zlatko Mehmedic, Erin L. Treiber, M D Marks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Cannabis sativa is an economically important source of durable fibers, nutritious seeds, and psychoactive drugs but few economic plants are so poorly understood genetically. Marijuana and hemp were crossed to evaluate competing models of cannabinoid inheritance and to explain the predominance of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) in marijuana compared with cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) in hemp. Individuals in the resulting F2 population were assessed for differential expression of cannabinoid synthase genes and were used in linkage mapping. Genetic markers associated with divergent cannabinoid phenotypes were identified. Although phenotypic segregation and a major quantitative trait locus (QTL) for the THCA/CBDA ratio were consistent with a simple model of codominant alleles at a single locus, the diversity of THCA and CBDA synthase sequences observed in the mapping population, the position of enzyme coding loci on the map, and patterns of expression suggest multiple linked loci. Phylogenetic analysis further suggests a history of duplication and divergence affecting drug content. Marijuana is distinguished from hemp by a nonfunctional CBDA synthase that appears to have been positively selected to enhance psychoactivity. An unlinked QTL for cannabinoid quantity may also have played a role in the recent escalation of drug potency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1241-1250
Number of pages10
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 New Phytologist Trust.


  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Cannabinoids
  • Domestication
  • Hemp
  • Marijuana
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)


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