Space exploration technology is being used in a Canadian laboratory to unlock the ‘holy grail’ of medicinal cannabis, the ACannabis EVOLVE conference will hear next week.

Using a range of high-tech processes in specialist growing chambers – technology which has underpinned research into growing food crops on Mars – scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario have been cultivating cannabis in order to produce the perfect plant.

An inner canopy lighting experiment at the research facility standardised the medicinal compounds in all the buds

Mike Dixon, professor and director at Guelph’s Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility, will tell the conference how the research into cannabis mirrors its work for the Canadian Space Agency.

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to standardise the profile of nutritional compounds in food crops. Food determines how far away from earth we can go and how long we can stay,” he says.

The research, he adds, is not unlike the experiments featured in sci-fi movie The Martian, where stranded astronaut Matt Damon is forced to grow his own plants to keep himself alive.

Now the challenge is underway to bring that same standardisation of food crops to medicinal compounds in cannabis plants.

“The technical challenges of going into space and growing plants for human life support achieve many of the solutions that we need for growing plants in challenging environments here on earth,” Dixon says.

“A lot of the technologies are totally applicable to harsh environments like Canada’s north or the deserts of the Middle East.”

The aim, he will tell ACannabis delegates, is to come up with an “environment control recipe” that achieves “standardised and homogenised profiles of medicinal compounds”.

“It’s kind of the holy grail of the medicinal plant sector,” Dixon says.

Mike Dixon: leading the Ontario research

“Using the technology transfer from the space program seemed like such a logical thing because we have this remarkable technology here at Guelph… that allows us to evaluate plant environment interaction at a level of fidelity, of high reliability that gives us the answers we absolutely need in this phytopharmaceutical work.

“Developing these environmental control recipes is basically the new intellectual property of this industry sector.”

Dixon will explain how the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility has dedicated much of its time to developing a “homogenised environment”.

That way, “if every leaf of every plant sees the same Co2, temperature, humidity and light you end up with a very homogenous distribution of production and quality in the plant material you are growing”.

Dixon’s presentation will form part of a Global Research Insights session on day 2 of the conference.

Also unveiling research will be Professor Cherry L Wainwright, director of the Centre for Cardio-metabolic Research, and Professor Andrew McLachlan AM, Head of School and Dean of Pharmacy, Sydney Pharmacy School, Faculty of Medicine and Health. To view the full program click here

  • The virtual ACannabis EVOLVE conference takes place on March 16 and 17. Cannabiz members can access an exclusive 20% discount off tickets by following this link.

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