Southern Cross University has received funding from the Australian Research Council for its New crop on the block: Genetic control of hempseed nutritional quality.
Associate Professor Tobias Kretzschmar, a world expert in plant breeding and genetics, will lead the project. His team will work with industrial partner Kavasil Pty Ltd, a regional hemp research and development (R&D) and consultancy firm based in Nimbin in the NSW Northern Rivers.
While hemp seeds, rich in polyunsaturated oils and high-quality protein, are gaining traction worldwide as a functional food crop, very little is known about the genetic control of oil and protein content and composition, which are critical traits for optimizing hemp seed productivity and quality for Australian industry.
“The project will involve the characterization of hemp germplasm for seed quality traits, including seed size and nutrient composition,” Associate Professor said Kretzschmar.
“Importantly, we will link genotypes (genetic makeup) to phenotypes (visual or chemical traits/traits) through quantitative genetic approaches. This will help improve cannabis seed varieties for Australian requirements in the future.”
A unique genetic resource of 120 different hemp accessions (cultivars), consisting of globally sourced germplasm and accessions provided by Kavasil, is used to define the genetics underpinning dietary variation and associated genotype-environment interactions.
This fundamental knowledge will lay the foundation for targeted breeding and best management practices for the benefit of farmers, the hemp industry and health-conscious consumers.
The project will be conducted at Southern Cross Plant Science’s laboratory and field sites on the University’s Lismore campus.
Despite years of over-regulation and stigma, Associate Professor Kretzschmar said hemp is an ideal crop for Australia.
“Hemp has enormous potential as a food and medicinal plant. The seeds are a rich source of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids with health benefits similar to fish oil, except they are plant-based vegan and have no odor issues and ethical concerns associated with animal-derived products,”he said.
“Hemp seeds also contain high amounts of essential amino acids, which are important for a balanced diet. Like soy, hemp can be used as a protein crop. Like canola, it can be used as an oil crop. In addition, its flowers are rich in nutraceutical and medicinal compounds.
“The versatility of hemp makes it the Swiss army knife of crops.”
Kavasil Pty Ltd focuses on adding value to hemp products by marketing high quality hemp seeds as functional foods; Advice on and change of policy regarding hemp foods for human consumption (through Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ)); and supporting research and development in the areas of hemp cultivation, hemp strain improvement, hemp nutrition and hemp seed processing.
Southern Cross University now houses, maintains and works with the Kavasil hemp germplasm collection, which is critical to this project.
Andrew Kavasilas is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kavasil Pty Ltd. During his 20+ years in the hemp industry, he has collaborated with Southern Cross University on several hemp and cannabis research projects and has been instrumental in shaping the regulatory landscape and driving the application approval and subsequent introduction of hemp seed edibles to the human consumption in Australia.
He said: “One of my main goals is to develop markets and supply chains for ‘functional hemp foods’ with nutritional and health benefits.
“This can be achieved through increased domestic production of premium ‘clean and green’ products. One of the keys to sourcing, processing and marketing hemp products grown in Australia is developing locally adapted hemp strains that yield large seeds and high concentrations of ‘functional’ components such as fatty acids, proteins and other complex compounds.”
“Elucidating the genetic contribution as well as genotype-environment interactions for these important functional components in the cannabis plant will be critical to our future breeding programs and expansion plans.” he added.
“This is clearly in line with our strategic objective of developing appropriate genetics, sourcing, processing and marketing increasing volumes of high-quality Australian-grown hemp products.”