Growing Trichomes in Giant Bioreactors: How BioHarvest is Revolutionizing Cannabinoid Production

Written by Sabina Pulone

If we talk about bio-technological breakthrough innovations, we have to talk about BioHarvest Science Inc. Since our last interview in August 2021, there have been notable updates reaching our interest and that prompted us to interview BioHarvest CEO Ilan Sobel again.

This company, headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is operating in the field of nutraceutical superfruit products and cannabis. BioHarvest has the technology to unlock the secrets of plant cellular biology and, through the patent-protected biofarming process they are capable of growing plant cells in major industrial-scale, liquid bioreactors to produce secondary metabolites.

Their first product, VINIA, is a rich, concentrated complex of polyphenols derived from red grape cells that has proven cardiovascular and antioxidative benefits. Their bio-technological growing method permits the production of active compounds without the need of growing the plant itself. There are improved secondary metabolite yields and product composition, in addition to a remarkable reduction of energy consumption and costs in comparison to traditional agriculturally based processes.

Moreover, there is no need to use pesticides, reducing the environmental impact and avoiding many purification steps and analytical tests. The plant cells grow in a completely aseptic environment, a particularly important aspect for creating pharmaceutical grade products. Being a platform technology, it is possible to apply the biofarming process to every plant species that contains valuable active compounds and produce them with a unique consistency and cleanliness.

The proprietary technology was applied in 2019 to cannabis and, in particular, to cannabis trichomes cells, leading to the first production of 10 kg of full-spectrum biomass in December 2021. The product variability that can be found in naturally cultivated cannabis is cut down, giving a consistent and clean, high-density amalgamated trichomes coral structure (ATCS), that contains all the compounds typically found in cannabis including cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.

We look forward BioHarvest cannabis products on the market within the year, both hemp-based CBD isolate and full-spectrum cannabinoids biomass. BioHarvest expects to bring to market in 2023 full spectrum, normalizing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol fat-free, olive-cell based supplement and the anti-inflammatory, sugar-free, pomegranate-cell derived dietary supplement in 2024.



Why did you apply biofarming to cannabis?

Three years ago, we started to use this platform technology on cannabis. We wanted to validate the process on the toughest plant in the plant kingdom. In cannabis, there are male and females and the latter are often challenging and inconsistent in composition. When we decided to start working on cannabis cells, there were many skeptical opinions claiming that it was impossible to grow cells of cannabis and then get trichomes, the factories of cannabis where all active secondary metabolites are produced. No one had ever succeeded in growing them outside of the plant.

Growing in our bioreactors now are grape cells that contain polyphenols. We also can get trichomes cells for producing cannabinoids, which are secondary metabolites which BioHarvest uses its Bio-Plant CELLicitation technology to grow. So, it was just a matter of time before we proved that the skeptics were wrong. We broke biological history and today, we are the only company in the world producing trichomes in industrial scale bioreactors.


Have other research groups grown cannabis cells with trichomes?

There were previous studies where researchers were growing cells with trichomes in Petri dishes, but no one could get out from the Petri dish to scale up the process. We figured out how to get a cell to produce trichomes and how to protect them from the shear forces in a big industrial scale bioreactors that produce eight kg of cannabis biomass every three weeks with 93% trichomes. Our biomass is basically similar to bubble hash, the result of separating the trichomes from cannabis biomass using ice, water, and filtration bags. And we do all of this without growing the plant itself!


To start the biofarming process, you have to grow the plant at least one time. Do you keep the mother plants to get a cell source? How many varieties have you grown?

We don’t need to have a mother plant. We only need the plant once. We create a cell bank and we can select the desired initiating cells from there. If something goes wrong, like an electricity breakdown for a week, we just go to the cell bank and we take back the desired cells. Today, we have two different varieties in the cell bank, but in the next six months, we will probably have five to seven varieties.


What kinds of compounds do you produce?

Today, we are growing full-spectrum, non-genetically modified (non-GMO) cannabis with significant concentrations of all the major cannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidiol (CBD), delta-9- tetrahydrocannabonol (THC), tetrahydrocannabidivarin (THCV), cannabichromene (CBC), etc. First, the cannabinoids are produced in the acidic form as in the plant, and then we can decarboxylate them.

We created unique ratios of cannabis constituents that can’t be found naturally in the plant. For example, we made our product called VINIA by tailoring the composition, increasing the amount of a certain polyphenol. Therefore, we are able to “potentiate the nature” and we’ve done this with cannabinoids by increasing the concentration of minor cannabinoids or enhancing the production of other cannabis constituents. The particular ratios we can achieve in our cannabis biomass are critical for the consumer experience in the recreational field, but also on the medicinal side to create a product for specific therapeutic needs.


Can you keep the consistency of these tailored, enhanced cannabis compositions?

Yes, there are variables that you can tune to get the desired composition and this can be reproduced applying our know-how. We have fingerprint consistency with no pathogens, heavy metals, or pesticide residues. All our processes are conducted in a completely aseptic environment.


How can you consume the produced biomass? And how can you improve the product bitterness?

The product itself can be smoked like an inflorescence or it can be vaped. Moreover, it is perfect to be infused in food or beverages. The bitterness is lowered because there is not the plant itself and the bitter chlorophyll found in cannabis leaves.


You included on your board of advisors the astronaut Chris Hadfield. Are you planning to use BioHarvest technology in space?

We are the global leader in plant cell biology. So, we also have to be the global leader of plant cell biology in outer space! We were always interested in space because there is no gravity and we know that plant cells grow differently in a microgravity environment. That’s why we are working hard to do an experiment on the international space station in the near future. Right now, we are adapting our bioreactors to that microgravity environment.

As an example, on earth, we produce our VINIA product and we can increase the resveratrol content 100 times compared to grape plants. What if in space, we could increase the resveratrol concentration 1000 times? We could create even more unique products that could be used for medicinal applications. Moreover, in the future, there will be settlements in space and our technology could be used to produce proteins in our bioreactors that could be a sustainable supply of food.

In addition, VINIA could be a valuable food supplement for astronauts to protect them from oxidation of cholesterol due to radiation.


What about cannabis products in space?

Imagine if in space, you could make minor cannabinoids as major cannabinoids. We could create unique signature formulations that could be so disruptive and be tested for their incredible therapeutic potential. When cannabis becomes federally legal, it will be easier for us to do testing on cannabis. But the vision of our company is in that direction.


Your cannabis products have enhanced bioavailability. How is that possible?

When regular cannabis goes into the stomach, many cannabinoids are lost because of the acidic stomach environment. More scientific validation is needed, but we believe that the improved bioavailability of our amalgamated trichomes coral structure is dependent on their strong cellular wall formed because of all the shear forces in the bioreactor.

Similar to endocannabinoids that the human body produces, the cannabinoids formed in our biofarmed trichomes are bound to the cell wall and protected from the cell fat, instead of being produced inside the trichome reservoir as for the phytocannabinoids. In a way, the BioHarvest process is similar to how endocannabinoids are produced in humans and that’s one possible reason to explain what we believe is  improved bioavailability.


Do you also plan to collaborate with universities?

We just hired a chief medical officer and one of his roles will be working hard with public and private institutions to use our biomass to conduct clinical trials for treating many different medical conditions. Because of our product consistency, cleanliness, safety, and composition, we believe that these institutions will be pleased with our medical grade cannabis products and that we could contribute to revealing more aspects and therapeutic potential of cannabis plant constituents.



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Sabina Pulone

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