Cultivating Innovation: The Power of Tissue Culture Labs in Genetic Preservation and Storage

While seeds and clones have been the name of the cannabis strain game for a long time, these days, tissue culture stands out as the future for sourcing, storing and improving cannabis genetics. Popping seeds and ordering cannabis clones online aren’t going anywhere, whether a grower is focused on classic strains or phenohunting. But every good collection needs a backup—and that’s where tissue culture comes in.

So what is tissue culture, exactly? In the plant propagation world, tissue culture (TC) is simply defined as the cultivation of plant cells or tissues in a controlled, sterile environment. TC presents numerous advantages for cannabis breeding and preservation efforts at any scale. These days, issue culture stands out as the future for sourcing, storing and improving cannabis genetics. It’s a key resource to optimize those processes and make them more efficient and safe.

What Are the Advantages of Tissue Culture for Cannabis Cultivation?

Some of the benefits of utilizing tissue culture within commercial cannabis cultivation facilities include: 

  • Genetic preservation: Tissue culture allows breeders, cultivators, and hobbyists to preserve and expand their collection of cannabis genetics beyond the traditional limits of building strain libraries. With TC, you can store hundreds of OG and trending cannabis strains, preserving copies of phenotypes that can be swapped in and out of your veg room. 
  • Protection from pathogens: Tissue culture allows for the propagation of disease-free plants. By using small tissue samples from the mother plant, any fungi, bacteria, pests, or viruses—including hop latent viroid (HLVd)—can be eliminated using the meristem tip culture process, resulting in healthier and more vigorous plants.  
  • Conservation of space: Tissue culture requires significantly less space compared to growing plants from seeds or maintaining mother plants. This is a distinct advantage for cannabis microbusinesses limited by their license to a certain square footage. But TC also benefits large cultivation facilities of 50,000-100,000 square feet and MSO-scale grows over 100,000 square feet, where high canopy ratios are key to profitability.  

How to Leverage Tissue Culture  

If you’ve ever wished you could dip your favorite cuts into the proverbial cannabis fountain of youth, tissue culture is as close as we can currently get. Operators with available space and capital —not to mention competent staff—can opt to establish a tissue culture lab in-house. There are complete package solutions like the Athena Culture Kit that can help you get started. 

Be aware, however, that establishing and maintaining a sterile and productive tissue culture lab can be labor intensive, especially when getting set up, so don’t expect your already busy Head of Propagation to take this on in addition to their day-to-day duties.   

Outsourcing to an established tissue culture laboratory is one way to back up your strain library with less commitment and overhead. Outsourcing allows operators to familiarize themselves with the process and timeline while keeping their cultivation team focused on production and yields. 

While outsourcing tissue culture services might sound like a frivolous expense at first, saving on labor and bypassing the learning curve can well outweigh this particular cost component of building a commercial cannabis grow facility.

How We Were Converted to Tissue Culture at Next Big Crop

Just in the last year, we had to deal with a real situation: Some newly sourced strains tested positive for hop latent viroid (HLVd). We at Next Big Crop decided to take the leap and back up our genetic library by integrating cannabis tissue culture plants. Ultimately, we decided to outsource that tissue culture process with a third-party lab. 

After countless conversations with TC “experts,” each trying to tap into this new space, we eventually had our collective minds blown when we met Jesse Leach and his team over at The Mothership Labs

Jesse, who is Mothership’s founder and CEO, immediately stood apart from the other tissue culture executives we talked to—his experience in the lab, along with his background as a true cannabis expert and lover, were clear. After much discussion and planning, we eventually began preparing and delivering a rooted cutting from each of our 50+ in-house strains. 

These cuttings were used as source material for the meristem dissection process, in which small samples of each plant were carefully removed, sterilized and placed into multiplication media—a proprietary recipe of nutrients, antibiotics, and magic.

Now in test tubes, this sterile genetic material was maintained under ideal environmental conditions, for about nine weeks, until what had started as a tiny leaf clipping began to resemble an actual clone. The entire tissue culture process takes roughly four to six months of adherence to strict protocols to ensure no contamination or mutations, from start to finish. 

These new, sleek, optimized and disease/pest-free “mothers” are now stored in an area the size of a dorm-room mini fridge, and can be accessed any time. We only propagate the strains we will need over the next three to six months while the rest of our flavors sit happily in stasis. 

Once your TC strains are established and banked, a grower can simply wait for the right time for those genetics to enter new and existing markets. The tissue culture process has saved a ton of space and plant maintenance at our grow, and we are more confident than ever that we are providing clients with vigorous and disease-free plants. 

Next Big Crop to The Mothership Lab: “Beam Us Up!” 

After going through the complete tissue culture backup process, it’s safe to say that all of us here at Next Big Crop are TC converts. There is no good reason for any commercial operator who is serious about quality inputs and genetics and mitigating HLVd to avoid tissue culture. 

That’s why we’ve transitioned our relationship with The Mothership Labs from a service provider to a true partnership. We are proud to announce that through The Mothership Labs, Next Big Crop now offers genetic remediation, storage and cannabis genetic sourcing services. We also provide complete tissue culture lab design, equipment and materials sourcing, tissue culture standard operating procedures (SOPs) and staff training.  

If you are tired of fighting with HLVd, or your strain library is outgrowing your space, hit us up and we’ll style you out with the same TC plan we now leverage ourselves. Never lose your prized cut or phenotype again.

Contact us anytime—we love talking about this stuff. We’re ready when you are