The New Frontier of Growing: Triploid Cannabis 101

The world of cannabis genetics is ever-evolving, and for growers looking to increase yield and product potency, the latest cultivation frontier is here with triploid breeding. 

Triploid cannabis, a seed-free approach to cultivation, allows for a stronger and tastier product while also eliminating the looming threat of cross-pollination for breeders. It’s a brand-new cannabis cultivation solution that seems too good to be true, but it actually isn’t that new.

What is triploid cannabis?

Triploid breeding might seem foreign to the industry, but confused operators should look no further than their kitchen fruit basket, where polyploids have been the norm for years. Following in the footsteps of grape, watermelon, banana, and hops breeders, cannabis is finally catching up with the rest of the agricultural industry.

Genetically, cannabis is structured just like humans, as diploids with two chromosomes at least 99 percent of the time. But take a close look at that one percent, and you’ll find a rare occurrence where an organism has multiple chromosomes. In these instances, cannabis plants can naturally develop with three chromosomes, rendering them triploids. 

It’s a one-in-a-million chance, but growers are taking a closer look at the phenomenon and using what they discover as a jumping-off point for breeding intentional triploids. This is done by taking a normal diploid, finding a winning clone, and treating it with a natural chemical that inhibits mitosis or cell division.

When a cell divides, the first thing it does is copy its genetics. Then, the new cell takes the new chromosomes and leaves the old cell with the original copy. Treating a cannabis plant with a natural chemical interrupts mitosis, which means that cell will make extra chromosomes, but it won’t split. As a result, the original cell is no longer diploid. It’s triploid, or in other instances, tetraploid (four chromosomes), pentaploid (five chromosomes), and so on.

While polyploids are still a new concept to the cannabis industry, this method is old news to other plant breeders. Polyploid growing tools have been commonplace throughout the agricultural industry since the early 1900s. In fact, we’re so used to them, we don’t even notice the difference in our produce anymore.

A “normal” banana has big, fat seeds, and is almost inedible. But the bananas we know and love at the grocery store are all flesh and easy to eat because they’re seedless triploids. The same goes for seedless watermelon, seedless grapes, and oranges.

About 30 percent of the crops humans grow commercially are the result of polyploid practices. The same tools we’ve been using for corn, soybeans, and strawberries are finally being introduced to cannabis, and this opens up a world of new possibilities for breeders.

The benefits of triploid cannabis

There are quite a few potential benefits when it comes to triploid cannabis, but one of the most obvious ones is increased diversity.

Adding an extra chromosome—or several—means you’re increasing the amount of phenotypes you can work with, which in turn increases the scope of what cannabis can look like and what phenotypes are out there for growers to discover and utilize.

With two chromosomes, growers have a lot of options for breeding, but ultimately two main outcomes with a small amount of variation. But with polyploids, that potential is vastly compounded. Tetraploids will allow for 1,200 different genetic outcomes, which means as more growers explore this type of breeding, cannabis genetic diversity will explode.

This might look like more disease resistance, different cannabinoid profiles, and terpene profiles that haven’t even been discovered yet. Consumers can enjoy new smells and tastes, which allows even the most seasoned cannabis aficionado to be effectively wowed by their products. 

Triploid breeding might also result in increased yield, and more powerful product potency. Early research on the topic has revealed that polyploid plants might enjoy decreased flowering times, and an increased total biomass. Triploids also produce less seeds, so if you have a hermaphrodite plant or neighbors with a big hemp field and male pollen in the air, your triploids won’t produce nearly as many seeds as your diploid plant.

What does this mean for diploid plants?

If you’re wondering whether triploid cannabis is a threat to the everyday diploid, it isn’t. Diploids are still necessary to produce a polyploid in the first place, and they’re also essential for stabilizing genetics, or making seeds homozygous so they all produce the same plant.

While triploids aren’t replacing the old guard of cannabis breeding, they definitely provide a choice option for growers looking for higher yield, stronger potency, and a decreased risk of harmful cross-pollination. 

If you’re still unsure, take another look at your kitchen fruit basket. This is neither new nor scary. It’s an avenue for better taste, stronger smell, and a range of genetics yesterday’s industry could only dream about. And this is just the start.