About This Project
Microbes associated with the roots of plants are known to support, and in some cases, enhance, the growth of many agriculturally important crops. We understand little about the specific microbiomes in soil used to grow cannabis. This project aims to characterize these communities, and apply the results to help grow the healthiest plants imaginable: supporting patients who rely heavily on the medicinal uses of cannabis, and to develop biotechnology in our state.
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What is the context of this research?
Microbes colonize all living things to form complicated communities - 'microbiomes'. Because these microbial communities exist in a naturally acquired state of equilibrium, they are inherently robust. But, microbes can become sick, affected and altered by many different things - and when the microbiome is altered, this often has an impact on it's life-form/environment. For plants, this is particularly true of the microbial communities found in soil. Mutually beneficial plant-microbe symbioses play a crucial role in sustainable crop production - for many plants, scientists know something about how their relationships with microbes develop, and how they contribute to crop health and productivity. Our research program examines these factors for cannabis specifically.
What is the significance of this project?
Plants are the oldest form of medicine. The medicinal use of sacred plants has been practiced by indigenous cultures with astonishing success for hundreds of years. The scientific use of plant medicine in the treatment of afflictions such as depression, PTSD, and addiction in western models of medicine is nascent, but growing momentum.
Cannabis, in particular, is an enigmatic plant, with, potentially, a lot to offer humans in the way of medicine. While we are currently unable to study the plant itself, here in New Mexico where cannabis is approved for medicinal use, we can help by providing growers with the information necessary to produce the healthiest plants possible. Healthy plants leads to the best quality medicine, and, hopefully, validation.
What are the goals of the project?
We want to characterize the soil microbiome associated with cannabis plants (strains, grow conditions, etc), in line with these suggestions. This starts by identifying the groups of microbes that are present across of range of different plants: e.g. sick, healthy, indoors, outdoor. We're also tracking changes in soil microbe community from the start of plant growth cycles until harvest! Characterizing the plants involves collecting soil from the roots and around the roots of the plant. Large-scale DNA sequencing of marker genes relating to bacteria and fungi will allow us to genetically 'fingerprint' our soil communities. Then, we'll collate this information and categorize how microbes associate across all the different plants.
It is very difficult for us to apply funding bodies for money to support this research, because of the legal status of cannabis in the US. While in NM cannabis is legal for medical use, and while we do not actually handle the plant itself (only the soil), this project, which is very close to our hearts, has been funded out of our pockets so far. Regardless, we have produced some exciting results so far! In order to expand upon our results and put them to good use, we need to generate more money to cover the cost of DNA sequencing. We have around 2500 samples to process. Each sample costs around $10 to sequence. With the funds from this campaign we will be able to sequence around 500 soil samples, collected from our sampling pool: 14 different strains encompassing hemp and marijuana, a range of phenotypes, and a range of growth conditions.
We have already collected all of our samples and DNA extractions are underway! They should be finished by January 2018 and then we will be ready to sequence the DNA collected.
Oct 19, 2017
Dec 31, 2017
DNA extractions completed
Jan 31, 2018
DNA sent off for sequencing
Meet the Team
Siv is an environmental microbiologist: particularly interested in bacteriophages and bacteria found in freshwater, wastewater, soils - and the trials and tribulations associated with examining them creatively. She came to NMT via postdoctoral positions at the University of Portsmouth (PIs: Paul Hayes/Joy Watts) and Loyola University Chicago (PI: Catherine Putonti), and as an Associate Research Scientist with the New Mexico Consortium in Los Alamos. Originally from the UK, she has also worked in industry and as a technician. Siv is a strong advocate of undergraduate research, enabling success in science regardless of background or social status, and awareness of mental health issues in academia and beyond. In the biology dept at Tech she is responsible for teaching Genetics, Environmental Microbiology, Virology, Viral Discovery and an upper level/grad class in Metagenomics. You can learn more at watkinslab.weebly.com.
Siv co-founded the 11BIOMICS initiative with her partner, Jeff, a clinical therapist specializing in harm reduction and helping people struggling with addiction. Siv and Jeff are passionate about supporting the cause in providing as many options to those suffering from trauma as possible. This is where cannabis and community support comes in. You can read more about that at 11BIOMICS.com.
Siv loves the desert, loves hiking, loves music, loves to travel. When she has spare time, she does dangerous things with horses in the desert, and nerds out over new black and death metal. Her favorite Black Sabbath album is 'Black Sabbath'. Her favorite Iron Maiden album is 'Powerslave'. She does not like centipedes.
Nothing posted yet.
This work is performed as part of a grander plan to develop biotechnology in New Mexico. Another aspect of our work with cannabis, which relates to control of a specific pest (powdery mildew), is in the process of being commercialized. The money generated from the pest project will go to a nonprofit which we plan to set up with the goal of helping underserved commmunities in rural New Mexico with mental health issues and substance abuse problems.
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