By Steven Hoffman
Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Ph.D. – renowned plant-breeding and biotech scientist and CEO and cofounder of Front Range Biosciences – is committed to hemp. With a Ph.D. Organic Chemistry and expertise in molecular biology, he knows that quality – and excellence – matters, especially in seed stock and genetics.
You may remember Front Range Biosciences as the company that in March 2020 partnered with the University of Colorado to send hemp tissue cultures into space to study the effects of the International Space Station’s zero gravity environment on the plant’s gene expression.
“Our company is focused on figuring out how to develop and grow these plants in a wide range of environments, and the most extreme environment would be outside of the atmosphere in space, in zero gravity,” Vaught told Hemp Grower in June. “As a lot of our scientists put it, it’s the most remote location we have for our field trial program, and I think it’s an exciting area of research that we want to continue to explore.”
More down to Earth, in Boulder, CO, the company recently established the Front Range Biosciences (FRB) Hemp Science Center of Excellence. Founded in partnership with the Shimadzu Corp., a 145-year-old science, technology and instrumentation company based in Kyoto, Japan, the FRB Center of Excellence will focus on genetics, biobanking, breeding and analysis, all with state-of-the-art Shimadzu instrumentation, the company announced in late August.
According to Vaught, the FRB Center of Excellence will host scientists performing chemical and genetic analytical research to “support the development of new hemp varieties for the production of cannabinoids, terpenoids and other compounds for medical and wellness applications; lipid, wax and protein ingredients for food and cosmetics applications; and fiber for industrial applications.”
The Intersection of Human Health, Plant Breeding and Agriculture
After years focusing on diagnostics in healthcare and food safety, working with companies large and small, Vaught, along with his business partner and Front Range Biosciences cofounder Nick Hofmeister, began looking at hemp and cannabis as an “intersection of human diagnostics, food safety, plant breeding and agriculture – all the work I’ve done,” he said.
The partners set out at the beginning focused on the agricultural part of the supply chain – “developing new plant varieties, leveraging technology such as plant tissue culture, and marker assisted breeding to bring innovation and differentiation of hemp and cannabis products through genetics,” Vaught said. “As the regulatory pathway for hemp opened up a way to work with this plant, we moved aggressively into hemp because there were less restrictions to drive research and technology.”
Today, through its Clean Stock Program, the company is focused on supporting licensed cannabis and hemp operations in California, Colorado and throughout the U.S. and the world with next-generation plant breeding technology that the company says provides a consistent supply of disease- and pathogen-free plant and seed stock.
“We are really a platform company that leverages multiple technologies and capabilities to deliver new products within the hemp and cannabis markets,” Vaught explained. “Whether it’s premium flower, concentrates, fiber, grain or supplements, we are using our platforms to solve problems in all those areas by developing new plant varieties via cloning, vegetative, seed and other technologies,” he added.
While FRB sees value in new technologies and developing a deep knowledge and database around plant genomes, “We are not interested in producing GMO products,” Vaught emphasized. “We have a lot of growers using organic production practices, whether they are truly certified or not, and we support them,” he said.
“We are big believers in regenerative agricultural practices,” Vaught added. “The cannabis plant presents a unique opportunity as a model crop for regenerative practices in that it can be bred to be resistant. It’s a naturally robust plant,” he noted.
“At the end of the day, most of the products that come from this plant get concentrated or distilled and put into people, so it’s vitally important that these products are clean, with no toxic components going into the supply chain,” Vaught emphasized.
With the Center of Excellence as a resource, FRB “looks to leverage chemistry to understand the different ingredients in this plant – the cannabinoids, flavonoids and other small molecules – to understand them better, and then to apply technologies to develop varieties that can take advantage of these components,” he said.
“We’re on the cutting edge. This is one of the fastest growing, most exciting industries in the world. We expect to see continued growth in both hemp and cannabis as more states legalize it,” Vaught added.
More than just an expert in cannabis, plant breeding and biotechnology, Vaught, a musician on the side, admits he’s had his eyes on Let’s Talk Hemp Founder Morris Beegle’s newly manufactured Silver Mountain Hemp Guitars. Which may prove that while man cannot live on bread alone, he/she can get by pretty well with hemp!