In the marijuana scene phenotypes and genotypes have become popular buzz-words. But what are they?
If you are in the marijuana world, you have probably already noticed that the same strains can taste vastly different, as well as have completely distinct effects on the user. Besides growing techniques used this difference mostly comes from one thing: genetics.
Of course, the environment a marijuana plant has grown in will also have a massive impact on the end result.
Plants that come from the same strain can end up vastly different because they were grown by different people, or in a different environment. That being said, the genetics determine the potential of the plant. If there is a marijuana plant that starts out with poor genetics, even the best environment won’t lead to a successful plant.
Genetics and strains go together; however, growers and marijuana enthusiasts often misuse some of the terms. What do the terms genotype and phenotype mean? And how can we use them to help us grow better, more potent marijuana?
Genotype versus phenotype
In genetics, there is a distinctive difference between genotype and phenotype. The genotype is the actual genetic code of any type of organism – human, fruit fly, a marijuana plant, and so on. It maps out how that organism will grow, or at least what the potential options are. From there, the environmental conditions determine how the plant will actually turn out.
The phenotype, on the other hand, is the physical expression of this genetic makeup. Phenotype is determined by the genotype, but there can be major differences in phenotype when in fact the genotype is quite similar. The phenotype, or the physical expressions of the genetics, can be determined and affected by the environment the plant is growing in.
Whether we’re talking about smell, taste, color, shape, and potency (specifically with regards to the amount of resin being produced), the phenotype is at work.
Marijuana genetics from the beginning
To properly understand the workings behind marijuana genetics, it’s important to have a complete understanding of how it all began. Marijuana is indeed an old plant, although its exact origins aren’t entirely known. Throughout history, it has global connections.
One of the first cannabis strains came from Pakistan, specifically in the Hindu Kush region. Another evolved in tropical regions of the world. These strains are considered some of the best in the world, due in large part to the fact that they evolved naturally over thousands of years, making them strong, hardy, and powerful plants geared specifically toward survival in their particular environment. These are called landrace strains.
In general, strains (indicas and sativas) can be traced back to certain types of climates. For example, indicas, which are shorter and heavily resin producing, evolved in areas that are between 30 and 50 degrees in latitude. Sativas, on the other hand, grow more slowly and are taller plants, and they liked evolved in areas near the equator (30 degrees latitude).
Within each of these strains and regions, multiple varieties of marijuana evolved over time. Their genotypes and phenotypes varied according to the specific traits within the environment where they grew.
Growing marijuana indoors
Indoor growing became popular in the 1970s and 1980s. This was in response to increasing pressure from the United States government who sought out marijuana growers and users. They demonized it as a dangerous drug.
Marijuana cultivators began taking their crops indoors to hidden, safer environment. Because of this new wave of growing style, electric lights and setups such as the hydroponics system were better developed and are more commonly used. Today, most marijuana on the market comes from these indoor grow environments.
Even though most marijuana comes from indoor growing; it’s thought in some circles that this unnatural growing environment is not ideal for marijuana plants. In these conditions, they will never be able to reach their full potential; as the phenotypes will only have a certain range of expression available.
Part of this has to do with the fact that marijuana strains were starting to be bred specifically for higher levels of THC rather than anything else, such as CBD. This means the marijuana plants grown are much more “one-sided” and truly do not have the potential that their ancestors evolved to.
Even with this more limited range of potential, there are still a variety of indoor environmental factors that will lead to great differences in phenotypic expression. These factors include the temperature, humidity, and lighting, the type of growing medium, the nutrients fed to the plants, and the time that the plants are harvested. Even something as seemingly small as the angle the lights are pointed at is relevant for the marijuana plants. Get more info about growing when downloading my free Grow Bible.
Right along the time that people began growing their marijuana plants indoors, they started hybridizing their marijuana plants as well. The best genetic aspects of indicas and sativas were aspired to be in a single plant. The indicas have shorter flowering periods and buds caked in resin, while sativas had a more desirable effect on the marijuana user.
Growers wanted to have both, so they began hybridizing. Once this started happening, the entire spectrum of phenotypic expression options was expanded. It no longer included just sativa traits or indica traits, but a full range of both.
This also meant that it was harder to predict which traits would express themselves in any given hybrid plant. The options and possibilities are seemingly endless through breeding and experimenting. After all, if sativas are at one end of the spectrum and indicas are on the other (in terms of genetics), then everything in between suddenly becomes a possibility when you combine the two.
Sometimes genotypes and phenotypes come into play in an interesting way when hybridization occurs. For example, there are a number of strains that are genetically more sativa, but then phenotypically they more closely resemble an indica. The hybridization of marijuana has indeed changed the game when it comes to combining genetics.
The interaction of genotype, phenotype, and environment
To help understand phenotypes and genotypes in clearer terms, perhaps the best way to explain these terms is by putting them into an equation together. The equation would look something like this:
genotype + environment + the interaction of genotype and environment = phenotype.
This equation shows that the phenotype is a result of the genotype and environment interacting. But if this is the case, then why are all plants unique from one another? If the environment has so much to do with it; then wouldn’t the plants all growing in the same environment result in the exact same phenotypes?
The answer, of course, is no. Genotype is incredibly important in this equation; so there’s no need to downplay it. This is one of the many misunderstandings in the marijuana growing community; that the growing environment is the only factor to do with how your marijuana plants will look, taste, smell, and affect the user.
The truth is, genetics also make a massive difference in how plants turn out. This is the reason that grow articles will, time and time again, assert that even people growing on a budget should not buy the cheapest seeds available. They especially should not try growing marijuana plants from seeds they discovered in their weed. Because of the importance of genetics and genotype, doing such things would simply doom the grower to failure.
It’s important to keep in mind that no two genotypes will be exactly the same. Even if you purchase a batch of seeds from the exact same family, they won’t have 100% sameness. Think of them as siblings rather than identical twins. For that reason, in any batch of marijuana plants, there will be variations, no matter how consistent you keep their grow environment.
When it comes to marijuana genetics, it’s tough to cover the subject without bringing up the subject of clones as well. Cloning is the only way to know for a fact that the genotype of the younger plant will be the exact same as the mother plant.
Even if you breed two plants that have the perfect genetics for what you would like to accomplish; there will always be additional variables added into the mix. Cloning, however, is copying the genes of one plant. Therefore, marijuana growers who want their entire grow setup to be filled with multiples of the same plant should clone their plants instead of ordering seeds or even breeding their own seeds from their past plants.
If you have a bunch of clones growing together and the environment is the same for all of them; you will end up with the same plant. Different environments, however, will lead to different results (which can be a useful experiment in its own way).