Rebuilding cannabis research in the shadow of a volcano
Rohan McDonald is a tropical agriculture researcher at the Orange Hill Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, SVG Credit: Micah B Rubin for Nature.
April 14, 2023

Rebuilding cannabis research in the shadow of a volcano

The Orange Hill Agricultural Biotechnology Centre that I lead in St Vincent and the Grenadines in the southern Caribbean is only six kilometres or so from La Soufrière Volcano. So when the volcano explosively erupted on April,9 2021, we had to get out quick.

We knew back in early 2021 that La Soufrière could erupt any time, so we had moved our research material to a safe place. But the eruption destroyed all our greenhouses and shade houses and badly damaged our concrete buildings.

Where I’m standing had been one of our largest shade houses, and the tray in front of me once contained cannabis plantlets. Our facility aims to contribute to the government’s plan to launch a medical-cannabis export industry.

I started out at Orange Hill in the plant tissue-culture laboratory in 2000 and still have a passion for it. Tissue culture involves growing plantlets from cuttings under sterile, controlled conditions. Our country sometimes struggles with crop diseases and needs the clean plant material that tissue culture provides.

Cannabis was once grown illegally up in the mountains. It is now cultivated legally, but there is a very high percentage of male plants, which don’t produce the cannabinoid-rich flower needed for medicinal products.

Using tissue culture, we can start with a female plant and guarantee that all progeny are female and disease-free. Despite the delays caused by the eruption, we now have a tissue-culture protocol that works for all the cannabis varieties we have collected.

The government mantra is to ‘build back better’, so we will have two large temperature-controlled greenhouses equipped with solar panels, and a secure lab for our cannabis research, designed to be more resistant to eruption damage. The reconstruction should be complete by August. (Nature)