Phenotype & Genotype – Why Strain Genetics Matter

You might look for a strain’s flavour, aroma and potency as markers of quality, but you shouldn’t be leaving phenotypes, either. 

Like all other plants, cannabis plants are living organisms with particular sets of observable characteristics, including a genotype and phenotype, that pertain to each individual specimen.

Through time and evolution, variations of cannabis plants have had to adapt to the specific environmental factors and circumstances in which they grow. 

These differences in climate, temperature and other biological influences help mould and shape the development and growth behaviour of different types of cannabis, leading to the creation of distinct strains.

To draw a comparison, the concept is similar to how humans have a certain set of genes similar, but not identical, to their relatives. For example, parents or siblings may share a similar eye colour or hair colour. However, their entire set of genes is not 100% identical.

You can apply the same logic to cannabis. Plants considered to be the same strain can still have a unique phenotype and it’s this genetic ‘recipe’ that gives each strain its appeal and shine. 

What is a Phenotype?

cannabis phenotype

When it comes to horticulture, two prominent sets of factors impact an organism’s development.

One set focuses primarily on environmental conditions. The other comprises various genetic influences.

The environmental factors, which we’ll be focusing on today, are referred to by the term phenotype – or phenos, for short.

A phenotype encompasses the observable physical characteristics a certain plant expresses and the growing conditions and environment that led to its development.

Around the world, cannabis has, and in some regions continues to grow organically without human intervention. These wild variations are known as landrace strains.

They develop without any technological or biological mediation, only subject to the natural environmental conditions in which they grow. At one time, these were the only strains available to humans.

For example, indica cannabis strains adapted to more resilient, colder environments within mountain ranges and other adverse climates. Because of these external influences, the plants evolved to be short and stocky.

Differentially, sativa plants acclimatized to tropical, more humid environments. In this way, instead of short and stocky, the plants grow to be tall with slim, lean leaves.

From these humble beginnings, through years of technological innovation and the advancement of growing and cultivation practices, breeders, producers, and manufacturers now have more flexibility to intervene and develop particular sets of what they consider to be the most desirable genes or physical characteristics.

In this way, now more than ever, humans have the ability to experiment with cannabis genetics and phenotypes to produce a specific desired product. This manipulation has led to creating a new set of cannabis strains known as hybrids, which have led to the creation of entirely new sects of genotypes and phenotypes.

Genotype and Phenotype – What’s the Difference?

As we outlined above, two unique factors that contribute to an organism’s development. As we’ve mentioned, the physical characteristics are known as phenotypes and are the result of an organism’s specific environmental circumstances.

The factors that influence the second factor, genetics, contribute to creating what is known as a genotype. These features dictate how plants will grow. 

Thus, the genotype impacts the growing behaviour of the plant – or any other organism – allowing it to develop in a myriad of different methods that reflect its particular circumstances.

Essentially, a phenotype is the physical variation of the genotype, wherein the phenotype presents the particular elements the environmental factors collect from the cannabis plants’ specific set of genes.

This interconnectedness demonstrates the crucial role that a particular environment or set of environmental factors can play in determining the outcome of any given cannabis strain, including observable characteristics such as its shape, colour, smell and resin production.

In summary, genotypes pertain to the specific genetic composition of an organism or its unique set of genes. Opposingly, the term phenotype refers to the organism’s resulting observable physical traits from its particular growing environment.

Why Do Phenotypes Matter?

cannabis genotype

The emergence of the new hybrid strain category has granted breeders and growers more access to a vast assortment of different cannabis phenotypes and genotypes. 

This availability allows them to experiment with crossing these various physical and genetic characteristics to produce new, unique hybrid strains that incorporate specific desirable properties.

This variability comes through in different ways, including, in some instances, higher potency as well as other perceived desirable characteristics in the form of particular flavours, aromas and effects.

With this in mind, having a well-rounded comprehension of the various relationships between environmental conditions, such as distinct temperature, humidity, light exposure and nutrient and growth behaviour conditions, is paramount for growers to produce the most robust and preferable cultivars. 

This process is a meticulous one, and it begins with growers selecting a specific phenotype.

These aforementioned conditions integrated with a particular cannabis phenotype and the grower’s facility and equipment could also create a completely new phenotype variation and hybrid strain unique to that specific cultivator.

Therefore, it is ultimately in the grower’s best interest to understand the optimal growing conditions for specific cannabis phenotypes as a means of developing the best possible cultivars.

Phenotypes & Genotypes – The Building Blocks of Cannabis

A cannabis phenotype refers to the inherited observable physical traits of the specific plant. Conversely, the genotype consists of its unique genetic composition.

Both factors contribute significantly to the development of each plant’s distinct characteristics – including shape, colour, resin production, aroma, and flavour.

Through technological advancement and the evolution of growing and cultivation practices, manufacturers have more ability than ever to experiment with the various genetic and physical characteristics to produce hybrid strains with the perceived most desirable qualities and traits.

The emergence of this new sect of cannabis variety further expands the products available on the cannabis market, representing further innovation and discovery of untapped potential.

Sirona Pharma

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