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Texas A&M professor and students help put Texas ahead through cannabis research

Posted at 7:34 PM, May 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-24 20:34:30-04

COLLEGE STATION, Texas  — A Texas A&M professor in the Soil and Crop Sciences Department volunteered to lead his students through an industrial hemp breeding program.

Professor Russell Jessup and his students are finding new ways cannabis can be used in Texas and how this research is putting them ahead in a growing industry.

With a microscope, Meredith Clay, an undergraduate researcher, is further developing her research.

“I have been developing a microscope trying to develop when trichomes are ready to harvest so that we know when the plant is ready for us,” said Clay. “I explored different options for us to put it on our phones since it is a tiny iMicroscope and different ways that can allow us to maneuver the plant to see the trichomes effectively.”

Clay says trichomes live on hemp leaves and help her determine when to harvest.

“It contains a flower which is where the trichomes live,” said Clay. “The trichomes contain phytochemicals inside them which tell us at the color whether they are ready for harvest. A clear trichome tells us that it’s immature and a cloudy or tan color can tell us that it’s ready to be harvested.”

It's important to monitor the flower’s maturity to avoid what's called a hot plant, which is when it contains over 0.3 percent THC.

Professor Russell Jessup says the work they're doing here is innovative.

“Our industrial hemp breeding program is modernizing a crop that’s been illegal for 70 years, making it adaptable to Texas and make it safe for seed and fiber producers if they want to grow it,” said Jessup.

Ian McGrath is also a researcher studying how cannabis plants give off an oil that can be used as a protectant.

“I’m producing, hopefully, a pesticide that can be used in organic agriculture that doesn’t smell bad,” said McGrath. “A lot of these terpenes actually smell really good. They have floral scents...citrusy scents so we can produce a pesticide that’s as effective as Roundup.”

McGrath is a co-founder of a group called CHIL, Cannabis Hemp Innovation League.

“[We] represent a group of formally underrepresented students who have an interest in the plant and take this into an academic setting and to gain professional acceptance,” he said.

McGrath says the group is also aimed at helping students find on-campus jobs and raise funds for cannabis incarcerations.

Professor Jessup and his researchers are finding new ways cannabis can grow in Texas and help farmers in the future.

“Our three-year trial is to really focus on which varieties do well in Texas and also look at the genetics trying to improve plants to do better in the southern United States,” he said. “A lot of materials from Oregon and Colorado do not do well in Texas, so this is a breeding program. We are looking for improved genetics to do well in Texas all the way to Florida.”

Jessup says this breeding program years ago wouldn't be possible.

"[There are] a lot of genetic tools that have not been legal to produce in the last 70 years,” said Jessup. “Now we’re actually modernizing the crop and using modern tools with hemp. We have improved plant materials that will help us not only have plants do well in Texas but also have breeding tools that help other cannabis and seed companies work on improving their crops more quickly and make them more uniform."

With modernization in mind, Clay uses an 800x Zoom Microscope on her iPhone to determine features within the cannabis plants.

“We’ve been able to phenotype plants; figure out which types of traits they have so it can help us a lot when determining which plants are useful for our breeding program,” said Clay.

Professor Jessup and his students are in the third round of their field trials and look forward to seeing how cannabis can be successfully sustained in Texas.