Hemp is all the talk across the country these days.
The potential for this new crop offers a range of potential uses, but what do we know about the plant itself? Can researchers make hemp better? More disease-resistant? More productive? A new research grant to Oregon State University’s Global Hemp Innovation Center aims to start answering some of those questions.
The $1 million grant from Oregon CBD is aimed at exploring hemp genomics and expanding work into ways hemp may be used in health and nutrition products, textiles and construction materials.
The center, launched in June by OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is the largest, most comprehensive hemp research center in the nation. The center is led by Jay Noller and is based in the College of Agricultural Sciences. The center has faculty from multiple disciplines and colleges across the OSU campus, and it has a global reach — with partnerships in four countries.
Noller, in a statement issued after the donation, noted that there have been some private-sector genomic studies of the crop, but little information is available publicly for research.
Added Seth Crawford, who with his brother Eric, co-owns and manages Oregon CBD: “There is a tremendous amount of possibility with hemp, and understanding the genetics is the key. Philosophically, we believe the public land-grant university needs to be the epicenter of that research so that all can benefit from the findings.”
Oregon CBD is a family-owned business, with ties to OSU that go back several generations. The Crawfords both have several degrees from the university; prior to starting the family business, Seth taught in the School of Public Policy for 13 years and contributed in 2015 to some of the Oregon Health Authority’s early cannabis policies.
A first for the center
The gift is the first major private donation to the center since its launch, and it is unique because it allows scientists to publicly share data and collaborate with others engaged in the study of hemp.
Noller, the center director, noted that genomic research tools will allow better understanding of the DNA present within different hemp varieties. The research may also lead to stronger, more disease-resistant, higher-yielding plants, and provide understanding of the genes that influence the production of chemical compounds in the plant. With that knowledge, Noller said growers might be better able to predict levels of hemp essential oil components that are synthesized in different plant varieties.
Kelly Vining, an assistant professor and researcher in OSU’s Department of Horticulture, will lead the genomic research. She noted, “Looking at the most intimate secrets of life in plants is powerful. With hemp, the prospects are additionally exciting, because it not only holds such interesting promise, but it is just a gnarly plant genome — the bioinformatics are challenging. We are now able to explore that promise and challenge, while also being among the first to share our findings with the world.”