Did you know that humans actually share more than 40% of their DNA with cannabis, pretty cool right?
Humans and cannabis also share some common mutations. For example, polyploidism and albinism can occur in both humans and cannabis. But what are these mutations?
First, let’s discuss in general what a mutation is and their effects on cannabis. Then we will dive into a variety of specific mutations seen in cannabis plants.
What Is a Mutation and How Do They Occur?
In simplest form, a mutation is a change within an organism's DNA sequence. All living things, including plants, have their own DNA and are susceptible to mutations.
The double helix structure of DNA contains a sugar phosphate backbone and base pairs linked together through hydrophobic interactions.
Changes within a DNA sequence are made during cell division when the DNA machinery makes an error and isn’t able to be corrected within the cell. There are repair mechanisms within the cell that proofread all the base pairs (adenine paired with thymine and cytosine paired with guanine) but occasionally these mechanisms can make a mistake and miss an incorrect matching leading to a mutation.
However, some mutations aren’t even noticeable as the mismatch pair will still produce the same amino acid due to the wobble hypothesis.
There are many ways mutations can occur, whether a base was added, deleted or substituted. Mutations can occur randomly during cell division by chance but can also be induced, for example, by exposure to certain chemicals.
In general, there are two different forms of mutations. Germline mutations and somatic mutations. Germline mutations can be passed down to their offspring whereas somatic mutations can’t be.
How Can a Mutation Affect Cannabis?
A mutation can either be beneficial, harmful or not even noticed. All living things, including cannabis plants need to meet a certain criteria regarding their genetics and DNA to be able to grow and be sustainable.
Changes in a plant's DNA can affect many areas of the plant, including its structure, colour, leaf shape, germination rate, location of buds, overall yield, ability to photosynthesis and much more.
In the examples mentioned below, you will see how each cannabis mutation can affect different areas of the cannabis plant.
Examples of Cannabis Mutations
Just like humans, cannabis is a diploid organism meaning it contains two sets of chromosomes, receiving one set from each parent. Humans have 23 pairs or 46 individual chromosomes, whereas cannabis has 10 pairs or 20 individual chromosomes in total.
Polyploidism is a mutation that causes an organism to have more chromosomes than what is expected. For example, instead of having pairs of chromosomes you might get a tetraploid plant meaning it has four sets of chromosomes instead of two.
Polyploidism can occur naturally right from germination as a rare mutation caused by mistakes that occurred during cell division but it can also be induced with a highly toxic chemical called colchicine. Colchicine use is only recommended for individuals who know how to use this chemical as it’s very toxic.
In relation to cannabis, triploid plants (three sets of chromosomes) are infertile and produce very few to no seeds. Whereas, tetraploid plants (four sets of chromosomes) can have the potential of increased yield and potency. However, with any case of polyploidy in cannabis, the plant seems to have an overall bigger appearance than the same strain would without this mutation.
Interestingly, if you cross a tetraploid cannabis plant with a diploid, the offspring it produces will be triploid, having three sets of chromosomes.
The word “phyllotaxy” refers to the arrangement of leaves on a plant's stem, where “whorl” refers to a spiral or twisted fashion. A normal cannabis plant has two leaves produced at each internode. In this particular case, a relatively common mutation called whorled phyllotaxy produces a plant with three or more leaves at each internode. Additionally, an extra branch is present at each node allowing for a more bushier plant. The extra greenery that this phenotype brings actually allows for more photosynthesis providing the plant with extra energy to help it grow.
Unlike many other mutations, this mutation actually produces a bushier plant with the potential of producing an even greater yield! So in this case, not all mutations are bad.
Unfortunately, this mutation isn’t passed along to further generations, meaning this is a somatic mutation.
Webbed Leaves “Ducksfoot”
This mutation's phenotype is easily noticed as it causes the leaves on the cannabis plant to web together looking like a duckfoot instead of having individual fingers per say.
Cannabis plants with this recessive mutation are more common in sativa strains. A benefit to this mutation is the ability to disguise your plant as it doesn’t look like a typical cannabis leaf. This mutation has no effect on increasing or decreasing the yield or potency compared to a regular cannabis plant. Additionally, in cold enough temperatures this mutation can produce beautiful purple buds.
This leaf related mutation has been successfully stabilized into a true-breeding strain. An example of a strain that has the ducksfoot mutation is Frisian Duck.
This mutation is rare and found in sativa tropical strains that grow exceptionally large in humid conditions. Its phenotype is often short and wide as it tends to grow sideways rather than growing up.
This mutation causes the plant to focus its energy on lower branches rather than a large central cola. It’s common that these mutated plants will grow along the ground and form new root sites where they can.
As of now this mutation hasn’t been stabilized into any known strains.
Australian Bastard Cannabis (ABC)
This mutation that affects the cannabis leaves is a rare recessive mutation but great for disguising the cannabis plant.
This phenotype has some resemblance to succulents with an overall shrub like shape with non-serrated, smooth, small and shiny leaves. The small leaves and thin structure of this mutation helps as defense against cold temperatures.
Thanks to underground breeds this mutation originally had very little cannabinoid content but now has significantly greater THC content.
On a normal cannabis plant flower sites occur at the node, which is the same site the petioles originate from. A mutation called leaf buds causes buds to also form at the opposite end of the petiole, at the base of the leaves.
At first glance you might think this is a great mutation to increase yield as your plant has more bud sites. However, experienced growers remove these buds as they often are very small and they take up nutrients that other main flower sites need.
Twin Seedlings or Polyembryonic Seeds
This is a more common mutation in cannabis plants. This mutation produces two taproots instead of the expected one. With proper handling and after a day or two you should be able to remove the seed casing and separate the two seedlings to produce two separately healthy cannabis plants.
With this mutation since you are starting with one seed and getting two seedlings out of this mutation the grower can increase their yield by 100%. One strain that is more prone to this mutation is Think Different.
Interestingly, only one of these plants will be an expected offspring of its parents while the other will actually be a clone of its mother.
In some rare cases, three-seedling polyembryonic seeds have been observed.
Albinism and Variegation
Many plant species have adapted this mutation, suggesting that this mutation could have evolved very early in plant evolution.
This mutation causes variegated leaves to appear with many random variations of green, yellow, cream, and white spots. The green areas on the plants contain chlorophyll and therefore have the ability to photosynthesize, whereas the yellow and white parts contain no chlorophyll and thus no matter what you do it can’t photosynthesize.
This mutation looks beautiful and is a mutation that plants are able to live with unless the plant is 100% albino. Many plant collectors will pay top dollar for a plant showing the variegated mutation.
In the most extreme cases we can get a fully albino plant, meaning that all genes that control the production of chlorophyll have been turned off and there is no way for the plant to photosynthesize and grow. Therefore plants can’t survive if they are fully albino. If a single leaf on the plant is albino, it may live for a few weeks then die.
In terms of cannabis plants, this mutation will cause a lower yield and may compromise the health of the plant.
This mutation in cannabis is commonly seen in hybrid plants. One downfall to this mutation for indoor growers is how tall it can grow. This mutation has been known to have a stock reach heights over four meters tall!
On the bright side, the yield from this mutated phenotype is greatly enhanced.
This mutation can appear in two ways, one being genetically prone and the other being induced by heat and light stress.
This mutation causes calyces to grow on top of one another creating a weirdly shaped bud. The calyx is the base of the flower that is formed first and is also a part of the bud and usually the cola as well. Instead of growing rounded buds, these buds appear elongated.
Foxtail buds are neither harmful or beneficial. The misfortune to this mutation is that the elongated buds actually leaves you will have less plant material to use than the typical conical shaped buds.
Some strains can commonly produce foxtail buds and are typically strains that originate from Colombia or Thailand.
All mutations have different effects. In cannabis specifically, these mutations can either increase, decrease or have no effect on overall yields and potency. However, some mutations can really change the appearance of the plant and thus knowing a variety of mutations can help you identify and be comfortable with cannabis mutations.
If you’re wanting to grow cannabis in a controlled environment and avoid inducing the foxtail mutation check out our grow boxes at grobo.io.
Grobo is an automated grow box designed to make growing easy. You can harvest 2-3 ounces every 3-4 months on average. Even those with a black thumb can grow beautiful, healthy plants with Grobo.
Have you grown or seen a cannabis mutation? Comment your experience below, we would love to hear about it!