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The Clarence cigarette manufacturer 22nd Century Group on Tuesday said it has expanded its cannabis research program.

The company said its wholly owned subsidiary, Botanical Genetics, has launched a number of new research projects to develop proprietary cannabis strains that have medical and agricultural uses.

Company officials estimate the markets for medical marijuana and industrial hemp – which they view as an ideal agricultural crop – could be worth up to $10 billion, and they said the company wants to be a leader in cannabis biotechnology.

“It’s amazing what you can do with this one plant,” said Paul Rushton, 22nd Century’s vice president for biotechnology.

Twenty-second Century first entered the marijuana market in 2014, when it acquired the U.S. license from Anandia Laboratories to a process that can adjust the potency of marijuana plants for medical and recreational use. That process is similar to the company’s existing technology that allowed it to alter the nicotine levels in tobacco. The deal gave 22nd Century the exclusive U.S. rights to four genes required for cannabinoid production in the marijuana plant.

On Tuesday, the company said it had expanded its research into developing new strains of marijuana that have safe, novel medical applications and new varieties of marijuana that have low levels of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – the chemical that causes the high experienced by marijuana users – and that can be legally grown as a commercial agricultural crop.

Rushton said industrial hemp shows promise as a fiber, a biofuel and a food source, and the crop is relatively drought tolerant.

“It’s the next soybean, in effect,” he said.

The research conducted by Botanical Genetics and its partners is intended to make cannabis plants easier to genetically enhance or improve; to develop new ways of manipulating the plants to give them distinct cannabinoid profiles; developing ways to produce cannabinoids in tobacco, using tobacco as a “biofactory” for the chemical compounds; and to develop and breed new types of industrial hemp that are optimized to grow in the climates of specific states, according to the company.

Twenty-second Century’s Botanical Genetics has a laboratory on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where it’s not allowed to grow marijuana, Rushton said. However, some of the work conducted there can be applied to the marijuana plant.

And the company sponsors legal marijuana research conducted in Vancouver and partners with universities, commercial laboratories and other hemp and cannabis growers elsewhere in the United States where growing and using the plant in research is legal.

Rushton said the company is filing a provisional patent this week on some of its initial activity in this realm, though he said he couldn’t disclose details.

email: swatson@nullbuffnews.com