What Is The Difference Between Genotype And Phenotype?
Genotype and phenotype are terms used to describe differences between cultivars, but do you know what they mean?
- 1. Indica, sativa, ruderalis, and hybrids
- 2. What is genotype and phenotype?
- 3. Phenohunting
- 3. a. Cloning
- 4. Best ways to show phenotypic traits
- 4. a. Temperatures
- 4. b. Stress
- 5. Identifying different phenotypes
- 6. In conclusion
Phenotype and genotype are not exclusive to cannabis but have been commonly used in the cannabis market for a while now, even though you can find these terms in a dictionary it will take a bit more to really understand what they mean when referring to cannabis plants.
When talking about cannabis plants, genotype refers to the genetic code that carries the range of possibilities while phenotype is the expression of the genotype when exposed to a certain environment.
If you didn’t understand it completely and want to know more about it, here’s all you need to know about phenotype and genotype, and cannabis.
1. Indica, Sativa, Ruderalis, and Hybrids
Before learning more about these terms in the cannabis world is essential you know a bit more about the beginning of cannabis strains; As you may know, cannabis dates back at least 3000 years so it’s extremely difficult to know exactly where it originated.
Back then, there were landraces that evolved naturally for thousands of years and there was a clear distinction between Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis which were shaped by environmental conditions.
So because these two species were growing and evolving in different conditions, Indicas were usually shorter with wider leaves and took less to grow, Sativas were taller with thinner leaves and took longer to grow, and Ruderalis’ grew around 50cm, were CBD-rich and didn’t depend on a light cycle to trigger flowering. The really interesting part of Indica and Sativa is that it really doesn’t mean one will make you more uplifted or tired. Indica and Sativa really only give you an idea of which region the plant was originally from and has nothing to do with what to expect with the effect. A lot of the market in recent years has completely watered down what Indica and Sativa really mean.
Fast forward to the late 1980s, breeding and indoor growing became more popular and hybrids were created (which are a mix of Indica and Sativa genetics), and because growers cultivated with different temperatures, humidity levels, light fixtures, and nutrients, growers soon realized that all of the external factors, even minor factors such as the angle of the lights could affect plants, expressing different characteristics even if they came from the same mother and father plant. Once breeding became more popular growers also realized that they can genetically manipulate their plant for their own environment without decreasing the quality or yield of the plant.
2. What Is Genotype And Phenotype?
All cannabis plants contain a genetic code just like any other living organism, this genetic code is known as genotype and refers to the potential of the plant, containing the characteristics that a certain cultivar can express when growing.
Now, the phenotype are the visible traits that a specific growing environment (either indoor or outdoor) brings out during a cannabis plant’s life cycle, these characteristics include:
|Aroma||Length of the life cycle|
|Flavor||Resistance to pests and fungi|
|Yields||Mutation, deformities, and hermaphroditism|
|Colors||Resistance to harsh weather|
The easiest way for us to truly understand what this means is to relate to something that we all know and understand, humans. Genotype is the genetics you were given from your mother and father from birth and there is nothing you can do to genetically alter what you are made of. Phenotypes are the characteristics you acquire over time based on the environment, stressors, and lifestyle you choose to live.
Let’s say you have an identical twin brother or sister but you grow up separately in completely different houses. One sibling eats fast food every single day and is never physically active while the other sibling eats incredibly healthy and works out three times a week. This will create a huge difference on the appearance of the siblings, within a few years identical twins can go from looking the same to one being overweight and the other one is fit strictly based on environment and not genetics. To put it in a simple way, you can see it as:
Genotype + Environment = Phenotype
Phenohunting is the act of hunting or finding the best phenotype, now, the best phenotype will depend on what you are looking for and your objective, either producing seeds or growing the best for your own consumption.
When deciding to grow a new strain, you will have to buy a pack of seeds and it’s possible for each one to be a different phenotype of the same strain, so you will have to grow and label them to identify them easily, following their progress, and taking notes until you can separate males from females.
After growing all of the seeds you will end up with slightly different plants and you will pick your favorite one, either by aroma, flavor, effect, or any of the traits mentioned before.
Now, phenohunting isn’t necessarily hard, as said above, it depends on what you are aiming for, if you’re a breeder and are planning to sell the seeds you will have to select one or two phenotypes from hundreds or thousands of plants but if you’re a home grower this process can be reduced and done with 10-20 plants.
It doesn’t matter if you are growing 10 or 1000, the process is basically the same and you will have to continue until you find the phenotype that you were looking for. Phenohunting is ideal for commercial producers of cannabis so they can achieve the same yield at the end of each harvest without worrying about flower having different effects and cannabinoids.
Cloning is usually the process that comes after finding that phenotype you were looking for, it consists of copying the genes of a specific plant and it’s basically the only way of obtaining an identical plant, now, cloning can be done by tissue culture or by simply getting a cutting from a specific plant.
This method is used by growers who have already selected a good phenotype and want to continue growing an exact copy of that specific phenotype or by commercial growers who want to continue growing that special flower that the customers love.
Have in mind that cloning will result in the same exact plant if grown in the same conditions, as said above, the expressed phenotype is a result of the environment so if you select a phenotype, clone it and end up cultivating it in different conditions, it’s most likely you end up with a slightly different plant. Always try to remember once you found your prized pheno during flower you must re-veg before trying to take a clone. The plant creates completely different hormones during flower and will result in the cloning process to take extremely long or not be successful whatsoever. Also never take a clone from another clone, only use mother plants that come from seed to have the most vigor and effectiveness. The factors that can affect a phenotype expression are:
|Light source (sunlight, LED or Bulbs)||Medium|
|PH Levels||Oxygen and CO2|
4. Best Ways to Show Phenotypic Traits
From our experience the most effective way to show phenotypic traits is with temperature fluctuations and stress during the flowering cycle.
Manipulating temperatures during flower drastically will change the physical appearance of the bud and can give them extremely high bag appeal while also having beautiful fall colors with hues of purple, pink and yellow. When growing outdoors these colors might be much easier to achieve because the temperatures will automatically drop during the fall. To get the opportunity to get these beautiful colors indoors you must drop nighttime temperatures during the last three to four weeks of flower. The cold makes it so the chlorophyll becomes less prominent in the plant allowing you to really see the full potential of your genetics.
Certain stress for a cannabis plant is another way for the plant to express its own phenotypic traits. Now we are not talking about pouring ice water on your plants or breaking any branches, it can be as simple as letting the plant dry out more than usual. While it is always beneficial to let your plants go through a wet and dry cycle, during flower you will increase terpene and trichome production allowing the plant to dry out more. Just extending the watering day a single day can improve the trichome content of the plant. The trichomes are designed to protect the plant from the harsh rays of the sun and act as a shield or preservation method for the plants. Allowing the plant to dry out will make the plant think it is going to be dying sooner and the plant is trying to protect itself from the harmful sun rays since it has no water. Stresses like this will have the plant create secondary metabolites which greatly increases terpene and cannabinoid production.
5. Identifying Different Phenotypes
To help you visualize how these different phenotypes are expressed, here are a couple of photos of our Gorilla Glue Auto by different growers.
As you can see in the images, both plants look similar but there are minor differences that were most likely influenced by the different medium and light fixture used, so despite growing the same strain in similar conditions, both came out looking different.
In this other example, it looks like the buds have a similar structure but one was with organic nutrients and an LED light fixture while the other one grew under both LED and HID with synthetic nutrients, you can clearly see the differences between them, one developed a darker color with less foliage while the other one stayed bright-green and with more leaves.
Have in mind this doesn’t mean that one grower or plant is better than the other, these are just the different traits that a strain can express when grown in different environments, so the plants will have similar characteristics but they may differ a bit. In all honesty, once the nutrients become bioavailable to the plant whether it’s synthetic or organic the plant cannot tell the difference between the nutrients. The only difference and advantage organic growers have is that oftentimes when plants are grown organically the plant creates secondary metabolites which have a great effect on tastes, smells, and potency.
6. In Conclusion
Being on the subject of pheno and genotypes you should always get the best genetics for your grow. Always set yourself up for success because you will be spending the next three to four months growing these plants and you don’t want to waste your time. Research different strains and get a real idea of what you’re looking for, we know there will be a perfect strain for you.
If you have experience with phenohunting or any additional information to help fellow growers please leave a comment in the comment section below!
Selecting a Cannabis Phenotype: How to Get the Best Version of Your Strain
Ever wonder why the same strain of cannabis can be slightly different, depending on which store you get it at? A gram of OG Kush from one grower who sells to a particular dispensary will be slightly different from another grower’s OG Kush at the dispensary across town. Although they are the same strain, these are different phenotypes (or “phenos”)—different expressions of the same genetic material.
If two cats—one an orange tabby and the other a black and white calico—have a litter of kittens, some of the kittens will be orange tabbies and some black and white calicos. Some may even be black and white tabbies. So too, do different cannabis phenotypes have different traits from one or both of their parent strains.
When a grower decides to produce a particular strain, they typically get a packet of seeds from a breeder, each one a different phenotype of that strain. After growing each seed, the grower will pick the best one because of its characteristics, picking for yield, bud density, smell, flavor, potency, color, and many more attributes, and discard the others.
This narrowing process usually takes a few generations of selection, and months, sometimes years, but in the end, the best pick will be mass produced for sale, and that’s the cannabis you buy off the shelf at the dispensary.
The Importance of Labeling
An example of the phenotype selection process. Growers typically mark and number each phenotype for tracking purposes. In this case, a grower is selecting OG Kush (OGK) phenotypes. Click to enlarge. (Elysse Feigenblatt/Leafly)
Selecting phenos is a meticulous process. Organization and keeping track of things through the long growing process is imperative. You’ll be taking clones of each phenotype and keeping some while discarding others, so it’s important to label clones according to their originals phenos and to not mix up any.
To start, plant all of your seeds and label each one with a separate tag. So if you’re growing 10 phenos of OG Kush, you would assign them “OGK 1,” “OGK 2,” etc., up to “OGK 10.” The order of the numbering doesn’t matter, but make sure that a number always stays with the pheno you assign it to.
Grow out each seed until they are 6-12” tall, or big enough to clone. This will probably take about 3-6 weeks.
Take a clone of each phenotype and number each clone to its corresponding original: the clone of “OGK 1” would also be named “OGK 1” and so on.
If you’re starting out with ten seeds, you should now have 20 plants: 10 seedlings and 10 clones.
Clone, Flower, Discard
After you have taken clones, grow them separately in a vegetative state. When the original phenos are big enough, after at least 2 months in the vegetative state, put them on a flowering light cycle (12 hours of dark, 12 of light).
After about 8-10 weeks of flowering, these original phenos will be ready to harvest for buds. Some phenotypes might finish sooner than others and each will probably be slightly different. Now you will discard some of the phenos based on their poor quality and keep the ones that have good qualities.
A lot of seeds come pre-feminized, but if you are starting out with male and female seeds, you will need to determine the sex of the plants first and discard all of the males, because only females produce buds. Reproductive organs appear a couple weeks into the flowering cycle, and if you have any males, discard them and their corresponding clones and keep flowering the females.
When harvesting each phenotype, take meticulous notes of each pheno’s bud structure, yield, smell, density, and overall appearance. Some phenos can be discarded right away, as it will be easy to tell that they won’t produce quality buds. Whenever you discard a pheno, discard its corresponding clone that’s in the vegetative state.
You can still use the harvested buds from discarded phenos. This product may not be as desirable because it’s from the phenos that didn’t make the cut, but a lot of growers will sell this for pre-rolls or extracts, just usually not quality flower.
Repeat the Process
The process is repeated. If you started with 10 phenos and discarded six after the first round of flowering, you’ll be left with four. Take a set of clones off of these four—a second generation of clones, or clones from clones. Keep this new second generation in the vegetative phase separately, and flip the first generation of clones into flower.
This first generation should be big enough to flip into flower now because they were growing vegetatively while the original phenos were flowering. But you can always grow these out more vegetatively if you want bigger plants.
After flowering these four remaining phenos, harvest them and take more notes. Discard the ones with poor qualities and their corresponding clones and keep the ones with good qualities.
Continue this process until you’re down to one pheno. That is your winner!
You don’t want to discard a pheno with possible good qualities, but keep in mind that the less you discard, the more rounds of cloning, flowering, and discarding you’ll have to do.
Often, commercial growers will go through at least three rounds of generations of this selection process to get the final pheno, sometimes even more.
You can see how this is a time-consuming process. Three generations of flowering phenotypes, if each round takes about 8-10 weeks, is 24-30 weeks alone. Add on top of that another month or so for the seeds to germinate and get to an initial size in which to clone off of at the beginning of the process, plus time to harvest, dry, and cure buds at the end.
So before that OG Kush from your favorite grower hits the shelves for the first time, they have been growing and narrowing it down for 7-9 months at least, to get you the best version of that OG Kush. That phenotype is now their “cut” of that strain.
A phenotype, or pheno, refers to the physical expression of a cannabis plant’s genetic blueprint; when a female cannabis plant produces seeds, each seed is a phenotype that expresses a unique set of traits from the mother and father plants. Phenotypes occur as the result of the interaction between a plant’s genetic blueprint and the environment in which it is grown.
“The phenotype of these Blue Dream seeds grown under full light is different than the same seeds grown in partial shade.”
What is phenotype?
Phenotype, or the physical expression of a cannabis plant, depends on the genetic code—or genotype—of the plant and the way in which the environment influences the expression of that genetic code.
Genes are not activated simply because an organism has them—they are triggered by the environment. Different environments will activate or inhibit the expression of different genes. Environmental factors such as light, air, water, and nutrient levels can trigger or inhibit the expression of certain genes.
Every aspect of the phenotype of a cannabis plant, including its smell, color, potency, resin production, height, etc., is therefore the product of the plant’s genotype and the environment in which it grows.
Plants that are genetically identical can end up with very different phenotypes due to the environmental conditions they are exposed to. For example, seeds of a specific strain will typically grow differently indoors compared to outdoors. The physical differences that result as a consequence of exposure to distinct environmental conditions is called phenotypic plasticity.
How is phenotype used?
Growers use cannabis phenotypes as a way to select for the best expression of physical characteristics in a particular strain: After growing multiple seeds of a strain, growers will choose the one—the phenotype—that is the best in terms of yields, potency, color, flavor, bud density, and other valued features. Clones can then be made of that phenotype for mass production.