In DepthPlant Biology

A new neglected crop: cannabis

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Science  21 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6335, pp. 232-233
DOI: 10.1126/science.356.6335.232

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To many, cannabis is a recreational drug; to some, it is a medicine. Now, it is increasingly seen as a crop, to be grown in quantity and engineered for better traits—not just pharmacological effects, but also fiber content and the rapid, efficient growth that makes a plant useful for biofuels. This month, in a special issue of Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, researchers delve into all aspects of cannabis biology and ecology. The work sheds light on how the plant has diversified since it was first grown 8500 years ago in Eurasia. As they play catch-up with this previously neglected crop, plant biologists are revealing the genetic basis of key traits, such as chemical content, and are figuring out how to make the most out of hemp for various purposes. Though regulatory obstacles remain, researchers are optimistic that in the near future funding agencies and researchers will see cannabis as no different than sunflowers, tomatoes, or other well-studied plants.