Why are Cannabis Genetics Important?

Cannabis is an ancient plant with roots all over the world. The earliest species are thought to have grown in the mountainous Hindu Kush region of Pakistan, while others later proliferated in tropical climates. These earliest varieties, called landrace strains, are considered the diamonds of cannabis genetics. Thousands of years of adaptation allowed these strains to express their very best traits for a specific geographical location.

Genetics hold the key to your bud’s effects, flavors, vigor, and growth attributes. Not unlike concentrate production, where the starting material is the most important factor in determining the end quality of each extraction, a cannabis plant’s genetics are the starting material and hold extreme value for each strain to reach its potential. Every strain carries a unique genotype that serves as a blueprint for its growth, as well as a specific phenotype that is influenced by its environmental factors and affect a range of strain attributes like color, smell, structure, and potency.
Just like human and animal offspring, cannabis strains display a mix of traits from their parent strains. This is especially true with hybrid varieties. Hybrid cannabis strains typically show dominant attributes from their lineage. Oftentimes breeders work for generations to isolate or emphasize specific traits from a strain’s parent genetics. For example, Blue Dream provides an uplifting cerebral energy common of its Haze parent, as well as a sweet, berry flavor profile which it inherits from the influence of its Blueberry bloodline.

Just like human and animal offspring, cannabis strains display a mix of traits from their parent strains. This is especially true with hybrid varieties. Hybrid cannabis strains typically show dominant attributes from their lineage. Oftentimes breeders work for generations to isolate or emphasize specific traits from a strain’s parent genetics. For example, Blue Dream provides an uplifting cerebral energy common of its Haze parent, as well as a sweet, berry flavor profile which it inherits from the influence of its Blueberry bloodline.

 Pure Marijuana strains

Also known as landraces or purebreds, pure cannabis strains have been the basis of cannabis breeding over the past decades. These species are endemic from an area, where they have never been crossed (hybridised) with other varieties. There is a large number of landraces from all around the planet, belonging to any of the three families of cannabis, Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis. Nepal is a good example; in this country different pure strains of marijuana (mostly sativa) are grown and you can easily see the differences between genotypes basing on the sea level.

Each variety expresses its genetic code (genotype) with a certain growth and flowering pattern (phenotype), so that pure varieties – with a purest genotype – show great homogeneity, with just few differences between phenotypes. We can expect very little variation between landrace specimens of the same strain, getting plants with very similar growth, organoleptic and psychoactive traits. Good examples of these varieties can be Hindu Kush (Sensi Seeds), Colombia Punto Rojo (Cannabiogen) or China Yunnan (Ace Seeds).

IBL or stabilized cannabis hybrids

The IBL acronym (inbred line), means that the cross was made using plants with almost identical genotype (inbreeding). On the opposite, outbreeding, to introduce new genes in the variety. Although it happens naturally, self-pollination is a common technique used by breeders to fix desirable traits and thus stabilize the genetic line, either landraces or hybrids. In Cannabis genetics IBL seeds should present a highly uniform growth. Classic IBL examples are Skunk and Northern Lights (Sensi Seeds) or White Widow (Greenhouse). There is a huge effort behind IBL’s like these, since a large number of pure specimens had to be used to select the correct parents. In addition, the breeder must fight against inbreeding depression, the result of crossing parents with very similar genetic information. The reward for this job made properly is a highly stable strain.

If we make a cross between two different landrace or IBL lines (parental A and B) with different genotypes, the resulting offspring will be the F1 hybrid, the first filial generation from the cross of the phenotype #1 (Parent A) with the phenotype #2 (Parent B). Commonly in this kind of crosses we will observe a very uniform offspring, also depending on how stable the parents are. The F1 hybrid between two pure strains or IBL’s will show the socalled hybrid vigor – also known as heterosis or outbeedding enhancement – introducing new genes that will produce “better” specimens.

Varieties like Orient Expres,  Red Afro or Eddy would be good F1 hybrid examples. Thus, we call F1 to the first filial generation of any cross, while “F1 hybrid” is used when the parents are different landrace or IBL strains.

When we cross two F1 individuals (whether landraces, hybrid or polyhybrid varieties), we obtain the second filial generation or F2, and so on with next generations. The second filial generation often gives a more heterogeneous offspring than the F1; we can expect a 25% similar to parent A, 25% to parent B and 50% as an expression of the mixed traits from both parents. As a consequence the stabilization work must continue generation after generation ( F3, F4, F5…) until we find the generation that gives a uniform offspring with the traits that we are seeking.

Many of the seeds that we can find in shops are polyhybrids, crosses between different hybrids. The offspring of such crosses is in many cases quite uneven, producing plants with very different traits. Keep in mind that in these cases, the genetic mix is very varied, so we can not expect polyhybrid offspring to be as homogenous as an F1 hybrid. It is easy to understand how complex it can be to stabilize a cross, since we are mixing different genes from different varieties, which makes the selection and stabilisation process of the different traits a very hard work. The vast majority of hybrids on the market are in fact polyhybrids, like the White Russian (Serious Seeds) or Fruity Jack / Jack el Frutero (Philosopher Seeds).

BX or Backcross

Backcrossing is a common technique used by breeders to fix certain traits. This is done by crossing one of the progeny (F1, F2…) with one of the original parents (recurrent parent) which has the desired trait. To have an even more stable expression of the desirable trait, you can cross the BX1 again with the recurrent parent to have a BX2 (squaring) and so on with BX3 (cubing), BX4, BX5…

This technique is also used to replicate clones in seed form. It is done by choosing a male parent to cross with the clone only, backcrossing it as many times as needed to get an offspring as similar as possible to the original clone. The Apollo 13Bx (TGA Subcool) is an excellent example of this technique.

S1, feminized cannabis seeds

The acronym S1 refers to the first filial generation as a result of crossing the plant with itself. This is achieved by various techniques aimed to reverse the sex of a desired female, get the pollen use it to pollinate itself. If it’s done properly, we get feminized offspring with the same genotype of the parent used.

As always in genetics, the more stable the parent is, the more stable the offspring will be. This technique can also be used as a regular backcross, selecting and fixing traits but starting with just one parent. Thus, we can find S2 or S3 seeds, which have been backcrossed again with the original parent. Examples of S1 are Tropimango, S.A.D. or Trainweck.