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Ep. 368: Dr. Einav Gati, Volcani Institute Israel

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep. 368: Dr. Einav Gati, Volcani Institute Israel

Ep. 368: Dr. Einav Gati, Volcani Institute Israel

Dr. Einav Gati On the original Green Revolution: “It was like the ’30s to ’60s. They believed that we have to feed the world and to feed the world, we have to make sure that our crops are a high yield. To do that, they created the different crops of wheat, of corn- and so on- which we find today. But we forgot and somehow erased the genetic resources that we use to have. Gene banks today try to find it again, try to conserve it, try to make it available for research and breeding.”

Transcript:

Dr. Einav Gati: I'm Dr. Einav Mayzlish-Gati. I am the head of the Israeli Gene Bank in the Agriculture Research Organization, The Volcani Center.

Seth Adler: Now I'm seeing your beautiful family just behind you because you've brought me into your office and I very much appreciate being here and you have a lovely family.

Dr. Einav Gati: Thank you so much.

Seth Adler: What is this gene bank?

Dr. Einav Gati: Okay. This is the Israeli Gene Bank. We hold here and we conserve here the Israeli genetic resources, which is one of a lot of gene banks around the world. The purpose of gene banks is to save our genetic material, of plant genetic material, so we will be able to have this material for better crop, to make sure we have traits for breeding. We have a changing environmental world, so we have to make sure that we have these traits in our hold.

Seth Adler: When you say changing environmental world ... We'll get to current and future maybe, but what I was fascinated to learn and thank you for explaining it to me before we turned on the microphones is that we've got what we have now as far as wheat, for instance, but this is a specific kind of alteration of what had come before.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yes. We know that we had the Green Revolution. It was like the '30s to '60s. They believed in ... That was had to be done by then, that we have to feed the world and to feed the world, we have to make sure that our crops are a high yield. To do that, they created a different crops of wheat, of corn, of other stuff that is modern. On the background of those crops, we have everything that we are eating today. But we forgot and somehow erased the genetic resources that we use to have. Gene banks today try to find it again, try to conserve it, try to make it available for research and breeding.

Dr. Einav Gati: I'm Dr. Einav Mayzlish-Gati. I am the head of the Israeli Gene Bank in the Agriculture Research Organization, The Volcani Center.

Seth Adler: Now I'm seeing your beautiful family just behind you because you've brought me into your office and I very much appreciate being here and you have a lovely family.

Dr. Einav Gati: Thank you so much.

Seth Adler: What is this gene bank?

Dr. Einav Gati: Okay. This is the Israeli Gene Bank. We hold here and we conserve here the Israeli genetic resources, which is one of a lot of gene banks around the world. The purpose of gene banks is to save our genetic material, of plant genetic material, so we will be able to have this material for better crop, to make sure we have traits for breeding. We have a changing environmental world, so we have to make sure that we have these traits in our hold.

Seth Adler: When you say changing environmental world ... We'll get to current and future maybe, but what I was fascinated to learn and thank you for explaining it to me before we turned on the microphones is that we've got what we have now as far as wheat, for instance, but this is a specific kind of alteration of what had come before.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yes. We know that we had the Green Revolution. It was like the '30s to '60s. They believed in ... That was had to be done by then, that we have to feed the world and to feed the world, we have to make sure that our crops are a high yield. To do that, they created a different crops of wheat, of corn, of other stuff that is modern. On the background of those crops, we have everything that we are eating today. But we forgot and somehow erased the genetic resources that we use to have. Gene banks today try to find it again, try to conserve it, try to make it available for research and breeding.

Seth Adler: Who is the doctor responsible for the Green Revolution? Many, but primarily?

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah. Dr. Norman Borlaug, he was Prize Nobel winner for peace. He won that for making sure that this world will not be hungry anymore.

Seth Adler: So he's trying to feed the world and in doing so, kind of engineers crops so that they are high yielding and that they are providing as much food as possible. But when doing that, we lost some of the entourage, if you will of the genetics.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah.

Seth Adler: When you go back to the wild, what are we doing? Obviously we're trying to look for things that aren't evident in today's crops, but how are you finding these wild almost prehistoric seeds?

Dr. Einav Gati: Most of the plants, not all of them, but most of the plants you can find their wild ancestors in the wild.

Seth Adler: In the wild.

Dr. Einav Gati: In the wild, they had their evolution processes and they're still there and still changing, facing the world. We can find the traits in those wild ancestors. We call them crop wild relatives. We make sure to have them available.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Dr. Einav Gati: So we have that, as we said, in wheat. We have that in the Israelites for about 300 different crops. But in cannabis, I'm not sure we have those wilds anymore, at least available because we're not sure that if what we have is real wild or are these the ferals, the ones that returned from the domesticated ones.

Seth Adler: How long have we been kind of focused at cannabis at the gene bank?

Dr. Einav Gati: For about a year, year and a half now.

Seth Adler: Okay. So this is relatively new?

Dr. Einav Gati: It's new as the medicalization process.

Seth Adler: Right. What do you have and where did you find it?

Dr. Einav Gati: I will start and say that through the process of medicalization, Israel decided that we need to make a breeding, we need to have a research through medicinal cannabis. We need to have the raw material. This is where the gene bank came in. That decisions was that we're going to bring over to Israel ... Cannabis is not a native plant here, so we have to bring it from abroad. We brought the different seeds, different varieties, from other gene banks. Now we still have it from Europe, but I believe that within time, we are going to have a contact in other countries in the world and we will be able to make sure that we have here as many varieties as we can.

Seth Adler: Are you going to go to the Himalayas, for instance?

Dr. Einav Gati: Maybe one day. Who knows?

Seth Adler: Right. Okay. One thing at a time. We're just trying to kind of make sure we have as many different varieties as possible to begin with.

Dr. Einav Gati: And make sure that those varieties are coming here legally. This is a very-

Seth Adler: Important.

Dr. Einav Gati: Important thing to do because we have to make sure that through other countries, we're doing it legally. So we're working and the things that we brought until now is under the SMTA, which the Standard Material Transfer Agreement, which is under the Treaty of the Plant for Food and Agriculture.

Seth Adler: And that's global.

Dr. Einav Gati: And that's global. It's under the FAO. When we're going to have other collections, it's going to be through other agreements to make sure it's legal.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Dr. Einav Gati: That's also when we bring it to Israel. We want to make sure that we do that under the Plant Protection Services' terms and under any other terms that need to be authorized here in Israel.

Seth Adler: Understood. If we started in Europe and went to the Netherlands, that was pretty easy because there's some legality there. There's some legality here. We have the paperwork in between.

Dr. Einav Gati: Well, not so much.

Seth Adler: Not necessarily.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah. We don't have seeds from the Netherland. We have from other countries.

Seth Adler: Why do you not have seeds from the Netherlands? It feels like that would be the first place to go, right?

Dr. Einav Gati: Well, I'm not sure that the Netherlands ... There are some legal issues in the Netherlands.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Dr. Einav Gati: So we didn't bring seeds from the Netherlands.

Seth Adler: Purposely we did not yet.

Dr. Einav Gati: Purposely not yet.

Seth Adler: Okay. Can you share with us where you have specifically gotten seeds from? Or maybe this is not a question to ask.

Dr. Einav Gati: Well, we have seeds from the Slovaki Gene Bank, from the Czech Republic Seed Bank, and from the Germany Seed Bank. We had some other collaboration, but it's not happening yet.

Seth Adler: Okay, and we'll wait.

Dr. Einav Gati: We just started.

Seth Adler: Indeed. As far as Czech and Slovakia and Germany, what are the differences between those three countries, what you've received and what you've seen?

Dr. Einav Gati: We're still looking at what we've got because those gene banks, at least they didn't gave us any knowledge about those varieties.

Seth Adler: Is it because they didn't have it, of course, right?

Dr. Einav Gati: Maybe they didn't have. I'm not sure. We talked about it earlier that in most countries, cannabis is still illegal.

Seth Adler: Yes.

Dr. Einav Gati: So sometimes they had those collections from before because these are very old gene banks, but now they cannot propagate it. They cannot work on it. So they give us what they have because it's a gene bank and one of the purposes of gene bank is sharing these genetic resources.

Seth Adler: Yes.

Dr. Einav Gati: So we got that, but we don't have the knowledge. What we do here, part of our project, is first to make sure what we have. We want to make sure that others will have it as well. We're working on making seeds and making cuttings to distribute it when we will be able. Rather than that, we also work to find out what we have on hand to make sure what are the cannabinoids are, what is the percentage of them? What is the ratios? We work on all those fields. As I said, we started, but we're going to look at all of them.

Seth Adler: Obviously you don't have the United States, right?

Dr. Einav Gati: No.

Seth Adler: But do you have Canada or not yet?

Dr. Einav Gati: Not yet.

Seth Adler: Right. Okay. This is really painstaking job that you have undertaken. Let's get to finding the compounds. Is there where you hand off the seed maybe to Hinanit?

Dr. Einav Gati: We're handing Hinanit the flowers. So we have our own greenhouse and we have a master student working on that in the [inaudible 00:10:16]. What he's doing is growing those seeds, germinating them, growing the plants. We are dividing between male and females.

Seth Adler: Of course.

Dr. Einav Gati: We have two different greenhouses, one for female, one for male. This is something that we're working on as well to make sure that we can establish a way to determine if it's a male or a female before it flowers. Then when he have the females, he make them flower and he examining the cannabinoids in Hinanit's lab.

Seth Adler: Now are those the seeds from Slovakia, from Czech, from Germany? So you're nodding your head yes. That's a yes. What about seeds from Israel herself, so to speak?

Dr. Einav Gati: Israel doesn't have its own native and land races seeds.

Seth Adler: We're going to take a tangent there. Land races, place to find that.

Dr. Einav Gati: Land races are the ones that were domesticated a very long time ago but they're not known as modern. They're not bred in a modern way. This is something in between the wild ones and the modern ones.

Seth Adler: I see.

Dr. Einav Gati: They're very important because they are very hetero gen. They have a lot of different traits and we want to make sure we have them to make sure that our breeders and our researchers have the whole variety of plant traits.

Seth Adler: Because of prohibition, my sense would be that you'll certainly find obviously current plants in the United States in all of the legal medical countries, maybe even the decriminalized countries. You won't necessarily find the wild seeds. You've told us that. But most of the seeds that you'll find will be land races seeds because of the thousands of years of cannabis use prior to prohibition.

Dr. Einav Gati: That's what we think, but we are not sure about that and this is something that we are looking into. We try to do some taxonomy work and to see if we can see where they come from somehow.

Seth Adler: How would you ... I mean not to get too far in the weeds ... would be a bad analogy, but how would you determine where geographically it's from, simply from the seed itself?

Dr. Einav Gati: We're doing a DNA extraction from the plants, from the seeds, and then we're going to look into a DNA marker and try to see if we can see any field genetic relationship between different varieties and then try to see between known ones and unknown ones and see the relationship between them and then we can see the different varieties, how they sit in our phylogenetic tree.

Seth Adler: How long does something like that take for one seed?

Dr. Einav Gati: For one seed, it's not that much, but when you want to a phylogenetic assay, you'd need to do a lot more than one because it's a relationship between other varieties.

Seth Adler: Right. Yeah. How long would that composite ... To write that paper, how long would that take?

Dr. Einav Gati: I hope that within a year because then he will need to finish his master and this is part of it.

Seth Adler: Right. So we have a nice ticking clock that ... We have urgency embedded in the project itself. We know that tremendous amount of hemp was grown and is grown in China. If I'm sitting in China and I have a seed bank and for some reason you and I have not been in touch yet, what are the ways that we can get in touch with Einav to make sure that she's got the seeds from all over the world? How can we help in terms of connecting those dots?

Dr. Einav Gati: I'm head of the gene bank. I'm only one line.

Seth Adler: In other words, what do you need to know? What processes need to happen, I guess is what I'm asking? What actually occurs when you create the relationship between Slovakia and Israel, between Germany and Israel?

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah. Well, first to make sure that the seeds that are going to be transferred to Israel are legally there and legally here.

Seth Adler: First and foremost.

Dr. Einav Gati: Then sometimes we have to see if we have a relationship, a scientific relationship, that can be determined and try to see how can I help with what I have and you can help me with what you have?

Seth Adler: Right. Yeah. How different is what you're doing to the giant seed bank in Norway? Because when I say seed bank, you say gene bank. We all think of Norway, right?

Dr. Einav Gati: The Norway ... The one is Svalbard in Norway, the gene bank, is a unique one because what is saved there, should be saved for each and every country that deposit in these gene bank. It's still in the liability of the country that deposited the seeds and not the Svalbard gene bank. But if you bring something to my gene bank, it becomes part of my collection.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Dr. Einav Gati: That's the big difference but the Svalbard was established to make sure that each and every seed that is collected in gene banks in the world have another back up place. It's like a backup, like a black box. We saw that in Syria in their war. In the war in Syria, one of the biggest gene banks in this area was destroyed, but fortunately they had their bank backed up there and they started taking seeds out and growing them again in other countries in this area.

Seth Adler: Yeah. That's amazing. That is amazing. Do you know if they have cannabis seeds in Norway?

Dr. Einav Gati: I don't know, but what I know that probably ... I don't know to say probably, yes, or no, but I know that this gene bank was established for food and agriculture. I'm not sure that cannabis sits there but who knows.

Seth Adler: That's an interesting question, person that runs the gene bank. Where does cannabis sit, do you think?

Dr. Einav Gati: I think it can sit in agriculture today.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Dr. Einav Gati: At least in Israel.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Dr. Einav Gati: It's a crop and we saw our minister of agriculture talking in our conference saying that this is a new crop in Israel.

Seth Adler: He also said there's no reason it shouldn't be exported by the way.

Dr. Einav Gati: By the way. It's a crop, but it's not ... At least now it's not for food so it's not for food security. So it sits somewhere in between.

Seth Adler: I see. So that's primarily food is what we're saying, food and agriculture, but primarily food?

Dr. Einav Gati: Well, the treaty is-

Seth Adler: I'm saying the Norway bank.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah. Well, the treaty that Norway bank was established after that is pointing some specific crops within its boundaries that are food. Food or feed for cattle and stuff like that.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Dr. Einav Gati: Cannabis is not there.

Seth Adler: Understood. Would you put it in that? If you were running that seed bank, would you put cannabis in there?

Dr. Einav Gati: I think so because I think not just cannabis, but medicinal plants as well, I think it's part of our way to make sure that this place is a better place and make sure that we can help other people.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Dr. Einav Gati: So cannabis sits under medicinal plants the way I see that.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Name some other friends within the medicinal plants. What else are we talking about when we say plant medicine, when you say medicinal plants, who else is involved here?

Dr. Einav Gati: You're asking me to say some Latin names that I'm not sure that I can name.

Seth Adler: Understood.

Dr. Einav Gati: Just from the top of my mind.

Seth Adler: They're not plants that necessarily we know in general society?

Dr. Einav Gati: Some, yes. Some, no. I mean there are 700 of them. Some we do know by heart, some no.

Seth Adler: Understood. What I'm getting at I guess is, how complex is cannabis from your perspective compared to some of these other hundreds of medicinal plants?

Dr. Einav Gati: It's complex in terms of legality because if we want to grow it here, you have to do that in very well-

Seth Adler: Secured.

Dr. Einav Gati: Secured greenhouses and rooms. That's the first problem. The second one is since they are not native and I have to go through the services of plant protection and quarantines, it makes it a little bit difficult to deal with. But rather than that, it's a very well grown plant. It's not very difficult to handle. Others are worse than that.

Seth Adler: I understand. What about the complexity of what it offers? In other words ... You and I just spent a couple of days at the conference talking about how many conditions it potentially treats. Is this true of other medicinal plants?

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah. When we're talking about medicinal plants and especially the wild ones, we're talking about plants that have different compounds and it depends on where they are growing and it depends on the time of the year. I think it's true for any medicinal plant.

Seth Adler: Right.

Dr. Einav Gati: Here in the gene bank, when we collect from native, from the wild, when we collect the plants, we want to make sure to collect from as many areas as possible to make sure that we offer for researchers as wildly diverse plants as we can. As far as we talk about cannabis, that's what I try to do to bring here as wildly genetic diversity as I can, to make sure that we have all those traits, all these ... big amount of terpenes and cannabinoids and whatever you can find in there that can help others.

Seth Adler: Yeah. If the Green Revolution from the '30s to the '60s was to feed the world, is what we're embarking on here with plant medicine to heal the world?

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah. I think so. I think that cannabis can be the new medicine. It need to be ... go through Green Revolution through modernization into medicinal cannabis because we know that we had this process to hemp, we have this process maybe to marijuana. We now need to do that and focusing on medicine. I think that when we do it now, we want to make sure that we do it wisely so we will not lose the genetic resources as we did it in the '60s.

Seth Adler: Understood. When you say hemp, marijuana, and cannabis, what are your distinctions there?

Dr. Einav Gati: Hemp is the one for ropes and-

Seth Adler: Sure. That's industrial hemp. Fair enough. We're on the same page. What do you mean when you say marijuana?

Dr. Einav Gati: I'm talking about the marijuana that you use for-

Seth Adler: Adult use. Recreational.

Dr. Einav Gati: Recreational. Yeah.

Seth Adler: Okay. Now I'm asking the gene bank person this, what is the difference between marijuana and medicine based ... medical grade cannabis, as we call it here in Israel?

Dr. Einav Gati: I started working on marijuana and cannabis just a year ago and my husband always laugh at me that I can't even identify the smell when someone is smelling ... You know?

Seth Adler: This might be a bigger problem because you should be able to identify the smell.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah. I'm not sure I can.

Seth Adler: Okay. Yeah.

Dr. Einav Gati: But I think that ... The way I know it, I think that the recreational breeders are aiming too high THC and that's it. That's the whole line [inaudible 00:22:16].

Seth Adler: That's the goal.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah.

Seth Adler: Right.

Dr. Einav Gati: It's a line that go through years to this goal, but when we're talking about medicinal cannabis, we need to make sure that we do that to all cannabinoids, to CBD, to THC, to terpenes, to everything that is in this magnificent plant and can help us.

Seth Adler: There we go. Going back to that Green Revolution, we were going ahead and making sure that we had high yield, but in doing that, we ... I don't want to say ruin the plant, but really didn't treat it properly. Maybe what we're saying is if you are really engineering for super, super, super high THC, you're ignoring the other aspects of the plant that should not be ignored and losing the potential.

Dr. Einav Gati: I think that's what was done. I think that by breeding too recreational, too high THC, some of it was ignored. I know that it started becoming more and more ... I mean aware. The reason we're aware now to do CBD high varieties.

Seth Adler: Yes, right.

Dr. Einav Gati: But we saw the talks yesterday. We see that there are other compounds that need to be addressed as well.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Dr. Einav Gati: This is what I think we should go to.

Seth Adler: There we go.

Dr. Einav Gati: That's the Green Revolution.

Seth Adler: There we go. I also was happy though to see, just so we balance this conversation, that there's absolutely medical reasoning, use, and value for THC.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah.

Seth Adler: There's that. Let's make sure that we understand why we're talking to you. I mean I know that you used to work with Hinanit upstairs, she said maybe for like a couple days, couple months, maybe even a few years?

Dr. Einav Gati: About eight years.

Seth Adler: Eight years. What were you doing with her, so we understand your background a little bit?

Dr. Einav Gati: Well, I came from ecology. But when I came back from my post doc and I was in California, I came back to start working on fungi, on mycorrhiza and then little by little, I got into plant sciences and then medicinal plants. Then I found myself here at the head of the gene bank, which I really like.

Seth Adler: Yeah. No, absolutely. It fits you well, right? What I found especially interesting is that we have many, many, many seeds and rows and rows and columns and columns. Then there's the locked-

Dr. Einav Gati: The locked cage.

Seth Adler: Cage of cannabis.

Dr. Einav Gati: Of cannabis.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah.

Seth Adler: This is part of the security measures that we have to undertake.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yes. We are taking very seriously all the security situation. Every room that we're having cannabis in or working on cannabis within, every greenhouse, is very well secured.

Seth Adler: Okay. I personally come from the standpoint that maybe it's not so dangerous, but what we are trying to do is protect it is essentially what we're saying. We're trying to protect the plant itself.

Dr. Einav Gati: We're trying to protect the plant and we're trying to protect ourselves and to make sure that we work legally in this aspect.

Seth Adler: Okay. Fair enough. It's all goes back to being legal.

Dr. Einav Gati: That's what we should do.

Seth Adler: Exactly. Wait, where did you grow up by the way?

Dr. Einav Gati: Here in Israel.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Okay. Are you pleased that we had this Cannaan conference put on by the government where we're talking about medical grade cannabis. Nowhere else in the world has a government put together such a thing. Are you proud as an Israeli?

Dr. Einav Gati: I'm very proud. I'm very proud to be part of Cannaan. I'm very proud that the Israeli government took upon ourself this medicaliziation process to make sure that we're living in this field to make sure that we are going straight to good practice medicine.

Seth Adler: There we go. All right. I've got three final questions for you. I'll tell you what they are. I'll ask you them in order. You might've already answered the first one. What has most surprised you in cannabis? Second question is what has most surprised you in life? On the third question, on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there? First things first, you have a very unique relationship with cannabis in that you're literally trying to save the seeds from now and from before. All the way back. What's most surprised you in cannabis.

Dr. Einav Gati: I think the variety. When we start growing out collection in the quarantine and they were growing and some of them were huge and the other were so tiny. The flowers were different colors and different shapes. It was beautiful and it was surprising.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Even to you. I mean you've been around plants as we've been talking about.

Dr. Einav Gati: I've been around plants, but these plants is very diverse

Seth Adler: Interesting. What's most surprised you in life?

Dr. Einav Gati: I don't know if I'm surprised in life.

Seth Adler: This is from just asking this question to many, many people, this means that you're old enough to not be surprised anymore is what I think that that means.

Dr. Einav Gati: I hope that I'm not old, but I think that I saw a lot.

Seth Adler: Old enough.

Dr. Einav Gati: Old enough. I saw a lot. Yeah.

Seth Adler: Right?

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah.

Seth Adler: On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there.

Dr. Einav Gati: A song?

Seth Adler: Yes.

Dr. Einav Gati: Did It My Way, Frank Sinatra.

Seth Adler: Enough. That's perfect. We'll keep checking back with you because this is a journey really.

Dr. Einav Gati: Yeah.

Seth Adler: We'll keep checking back with you and thank you for your work to date.

Dr. Einav Gati: Thank you and you're welcome.

Seth Adler: There you have Dr. Einav Gati. Very much appreciate her time. Very much appreciate your time. Stay tuned.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.