A technique used to test THC levels in hemp plants has now been confirmed to also identify the sex of the plant accurately without disrupting the growth cycle. The findings from research at Texas A&M University create a critical expansion point and new use for Mariposa Technology’s software and database.
Called PAMAP (for Predictive Analytical Modeling Application for Plants), this digital farming tool has been in an extensive research and development process for the on-farm testing of live hemp plants’ THC levels, among other cannabinoids, to ensure plants remain below the federal legal THC limit (0.3%) for industrial hemp.
Mariposa Technology has been using the technique, known as Raman spectroscopy (RS), for rapid, in-field testing of industrial and pharmacological hemp for THC levels. Testing onsite at farms growing hemp crops provides farmers with affordable, accurate and immediate test results and offers the opportunity to supplement the work of testing labs.
Critical risk management for plant sex and THC
Identifying plant sex is critical for hemp growers, as one male or hermaphrodite hemp plant can pollinate an entire farm of female plants and negatively impact the production of cannabinoids. Only female cannabis plants can produce buds (flowers). While male plants can be identified visually around 6 to 8 weeks of growth, doing so is labor intensive and threatens the investment to date in the crop.
“This discovery will change the game for hemp growers everywhere,” said Mickal Adler, co-founder and chief executive officer at Mariposa Technology. “In the past, growers had to be carefully trained to identify the sex of a plant. This can cause problems if a plant is misidentified and is time-consuming. This new technique takes all the guesswork out, allowing farmers to know what they have planted, saving them both time and money.”
He noted that PAMAP also enables hemp growers to swiftly test THC levels of live plants on the farm, positioning them to harvest before THC levels are considered “hot” and over federal limits.
In the past, growers had to cut samples, send them into a lab and wait days or weeks for results. This proprietary database allows anyone to test plants anywhere in minutes, without damaging the plant, for both gender and THC.
Mariposa Technology spent over a year traveling across the country to gather data on different varieties of hemp and marijuana plants using a hand-held Agilent Raman spectrometer device. That large-scale database is now used in conjunction with proprietary software, allowing an Agilent Resolve device (available through subscription to PAMAP and Mariposa Technology) to test their crop’s plant gender and THC levels.
Academic research partnership
“We recently discovered that we were able to use Raman spectroscopy to differentiate between young male and female plants,” said Dmitry Kurouski, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry, biophysics and biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University. “This innovative optical sensing approach is based on the phenomenon of inelastic light scattering that occurs between incident photons and molecules present in the sample. And the best part is you can test each sample while allowing it to continue growing.”
Identifying plant gender
Hemp is a dioecious plant, which means it produces male, female and hermaphroditic plants. Female plants develop appendages which contain cannabinoids, molecules that include delta-9-terahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG). Male plants do not develop these appendages, making them of no use to hemp farmers who produce pharmaceutical hemp. Additionally, hermaphroditic plants develop characteristics of both sexes, which can drastically alter the cannabis population due to hermaphrodite-induced cross-fertilization. Therefore, cannabis farmers want to identify and eliminate male and hermaphroditic plants, and industrial hemp farmers want to identify and eliminate female and hermaphroditic plants.
“When we learned about the work Kurouski was doing with RS and hemp, we realized there was an opportunity to tap into that science to help hemp farmers everywhere,” said John Roberts, III, co-founder and president at Mariposa Technology. “Our partnership with Texas A&M allows us to continue to provide farmers with the latest research and a revolutionary tool that puts the power back into their hands so they can improve plant performance year over year.”
Following the release of this research, Roberts indicated the company expects to initiate a new capital raise in the coming weeks to fund additional development and technology deployment.