With the recent global surge in industrial hemp, scientists are moving into the hemp and cannabis space to provide cultivators the technologies and best practices of other industries.
Helping lead the movement is Dr. Jon Vaught, CEO and founder of Front Range Biosciences, an agricultural biotechnology company that specializes in tissue culture cloning for cannabis and other high-value crops.
In this episode, Dr. Jon shares how Front Range Biosciences is revolutionizing cloning methods to not only produce robust, healthy plants but also create new varieties that could disrupt the dietary and pharmaceutical industries.
Learn more at https://www.frontrangebio.com
- A breakdown of Front Range Biosciences and the revolutionary biotechnology it’s bringing to the cannabis industry
- Dr. Jon’s background in biotechnology and what led him to start Front Range Biosciences
- The differences between cannabis and hemp
- A deep dive into Front Range Biosciences’ services, including its Clean Stock Nursery Program
- The ins and outs of tissue culture laboratories and the benefits they offer researchers and cultivators alike
- How to avoid common mistakes in cultivation, including exposing plants to disease
- Dr. Jon’s goals to create new plant varieties and cannabinoid profiles for the purposes of dietary supplements, nutraceutical products, and even pharmaceutical products
- Our current understanding of the cannabis genome and the exciting new discoveries Dr. Jon anticipates in the years to come
Matthew: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry, learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A insider.com. Now, here's your program.
Matthew: Scientists are moving into the hemp and cannabis space to help cultivators enjoy the technology and best practices from other industries. Here to help us understand this is Doctor Jon Vaught of Front Range Biosciences. Jon, welcome to CannaInsider.
Dr. Jon: Thank you Matt. Glad to be here.
Matthew: Jon, I know you've got a voice issue because you've been traveling and speaking and so forth. You may sound like the villain, Bane, from Batman, but we will forgive that if it's a couple of octaves lower, don't worry about that. This is not how Jon normally sounds and I'm not distorting his voice in any way.
Dr. Jon: Thank you. Yeah, it's definitely a couple of octaves lower right now. But it still works. So, we'll move forward.
Matthew: Jon gives a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Dr. Jon: So I'm actually back at home in Colorado, on my farm. I live in East Boulder County, not too far for most of our locations and our headquarters here in Lafayette, Colorado. But I just got back from a trip to Virginia at the Industrial Hemp Summit where we had a collection of farmers from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, who were all going to be adding industrial hemp as a new crop to their rotation. So, just got back there late last night...from there late last night and I'm happy to be home again.
Matthew: Great. And I'm in Charleston, South Carolina today. Jon, tell me what is Front Range Biosciences at a high level?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, Front Range Biosciences has been...we've set it up to be an agricultural biotechnology company for high value crops. And we currently focus really on two crops. The first being cannabis, which we include hemp, which is actually the majority of our work in cannabis. But then also the high-THC version as well, through some relationships that we have in California. And then the other main crop that we work on currently is coffee. And there's really two parts to our business. And the first part is our clean stock nursery program, which is pretty similar for all of the crops. We use a process called tissue culture to produce clean, disease-free, healthy, vigorous young plants, and then we put them into the greenhouse and then we ship them to customers. So we basically sell young plants, seedlings, clones, rooted cuttings, lighters, these are all words for young plants and we sell those to farmers.
The other part of our business is our variety development in our breeding program where we're using advanced technologies like next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics, the combination of those things called marker-assisted breeding to improve our ability to breed new varieties. And we're particularly focused on hemp in this area, so looking at a unique cannabinoids and agronomic traits so that we can grow this crop and domesticate it in new growing environments. Not only here in the United States, but around the world.
Matthew: And Jon, can you share a little bit about your background and journey and how you came to get involved in this business?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, certainly. It's a little bit of a long story, but I'll try to keep it as short and sweet as I can. My formal training is in organic chemistry, so I'm a synthetic organic chemist by training. I did my PhD work at the University of Colorado at Boulder. And I started my career in biotech while I was at the University of Colorado at Boulder working for a startup company here in Colorado that was focused on human diagnostics. And I spent actually about 15 years in the molecular diagnostics worlds after completing my PhD. And what I mostly worked on was the development of new technologies for laboratory tests. These were things, tests for early detection of diseases like cancer and heart disease and chronic inflammation. And I worked a lot with pharmaceutical companies to help support FDA clinical trial submissions and really improve what we call personalized medicine, where we better understand the side effects of certain drugs and can predict them better so that we can improve treatment and outcomes for patients.
I also spent a couple of years in food safety, similar technology platforms. But we were focused on a different application, which was the detection of food pathogens, or food-borne pathogens. So things like salmonella, listeria and E. coli in large scale food production. During this 15-year stint in molecular diagnostics, I got really engaged with farming. I started a 501(c) three non-profit. It's actually a small goat farm called Mountain Flower Dairy here in Colorado. And we were really focused on helping bringing the community closer to agriculture and help giving them a chance to understand where their food comes from because it's shocking how removed we are today from where our food comes from. So we did summer camps and workshops and I spent actually nights and weekends in between building these biotech companies setting the farm up.
And it's turned out to be a hugely successful here in Boulder over the last seven years. And so all of that combined, I fell in love with farming and agriculture. And, you know, when I looked at this emerging industry and cannabis and this new crop here in Colorado about four years ago, I thought, "What an incredible opportunity for me to move my career more into agriculture and combine all of these things that I care about." Because, you know, cannabis is a crop, has implications and applications in nutraceuticals or dietary supplements and nutrition and obviously pharmaceuticals and then agriculture and the growing, the production of the crop. And so that was really what motivated me. And I ended up stepping down from one of the other companies that helped start and went out to start Front Range Biosciences.
And it's been quite a journey ever since. And I don't regret it at all. I love moving my career into agriculture and, you know, and I think at the end of the day, when I look at human disease and human health and food production and all these things that I spent my career, you know, working on, you know, it all comes together in this new crop and in agriculture really. I think the root of many of our problems that we face in health care are due to poor nutrition and challenges in food production and things like that. So, yeah. That's kind of how I got here.
Matthew: I want to dive into this more, Jon, but before we do, can you just clarify for people that are still unsure about the difference between what cannabis and hemp is. They're the same plant, but different genotype and what that means exactly for a lay person.
Dr. Jon: Yeah, definitely. So cannabis is really the genus of a plant. And traditionally it's been thought of as three different species, indica, sativa, and ruderalis. The reality is that over the last 60 years due to prohibition and lack of access to modern breeding practices and characterization, everybody has been crossing all of these different varieties. And we kind of have a mixed up gene pool right now, meaning it's not really clear what's what, and you can use next-generation sequencing to track things back to some of the original, what they call landrace strains. But the reality is that right now they're all basically the same plant, and they can be hybridized or bred together. And so their only real difference between hemp and cannabis or marijuana is really a regulatory difference, which is the amount of THC that's present. And so currently in the United States, hemp is defined as having less than 0.3% THC whereas marijuana or cannabis is considered everything that's above 0.3% THC. And so from a scientific perspective, they're the exact same plant. They, you know, there's some unique differences in the different varieties, but it's not necessarily related to whether they're hemp or cannabis or marijuana. It's more about the region that they came from or how they're grown that makes them different.
Matthew: Now, could you tell us a little bit more detail about who your primary customers are at Front Range and what you're doing for them right now in terms of your clean stock nursery program and what problems? That's all.
Dr. Jon: Yeah, absolutely. So we're a B2B business and so our primary customers are all growers and farmers. They're our target audience and they're the folks that we support. You know, we work with all different types of farmers. So in hemp, for example, the majority of farmers are growing outdoors. Some grow in some greenhouse, but generally speaking, they're growing outdoor acreage and it's starting to look a lot more like the production of corn or wheat or soy although it's still just a very small fraction of the footprint that those crops make up worldwide. But, so we support farmers there on the hemp side. In California we have some partnerships with some cannabis companies and so we work with cannabis growers there that grow indoors and outdoors and in greenhouse conditions.
And then for their coffee growers, we're currently focused on growers in California, so we've been working with a group...our partner in coffee, Frinj Coffee. And they're out of the Santa Barbara area in California. And we work with them to distribute coffee plants to the coffee farmers throughout California. It's a new crop for the state and it's an exciting project to be a part of. And we have a significant production agreement with them to produce millions of coffee plants for farmers at California. And coffee is generally grown outdoors in California and in other climates as well.
Matthew: Okay. And then when you talk...when you say the word tissue culture, can you just explain what that means exactly?
Dr. Jon: Yeah. Tissue culture is a tool and there's a lot of misconceptions about it, I think especially in the cannabis industry. You know, but it's really just a tool, and it's one of many tools in our toolbox that we use to produce healthy plants. The processes really...it's not that different than growing in a greenhouse in some ways only it's growing in a sterile environment instead of the greenhouse where you have pests and pathogens and exposure to environmental conditions. In a tissue culture lab, we're still growing the plant. So it's still does things like rooting. It still produces new leaves and can even flower. And you know, but you're growing it in this unique environment. It's sterile. It's kind of like a clean room for production of plants. So tissue culture, it really can be used in a variety of different ways as a tool to support agriculture.
It's used as a research tool where groups use it to transform the plant, do things like genome editing and use it to research the underlying biology of the plant. And then it can also be used in the production setting, which is really how we use it in our clean stock program where we produce pesticide-free, pest-free, virus-free plants. And we're able to do that because of the sterile environment that we grow them inside the tissue culture lab. So, you know, we, we can use it to produce much more healthy, vigorous and cleaner plants for our growers. And the end result is a higher quality product going out of the greenhouse. So when farmers go to or come to pick up their plants from us, you know, our goal is always to have the highest quality plants and tissue culture is really just a tool that we use to do that. You know, there's other tools that we use as well. Like next-generation sequencing or an integrated pest management program, these are all really tools that we use to improve the quality of our plants that we produce for our growers.
Matthew: Okay. And the term tissue culture is thrown around a lot. But since you're in this business, can you tell us what misconceptions there are about it?
Dr. Jon: Well, I think a lot of people see it as this holy grail of how you can produce plants and you no longer have to have the mother stock and you don't you don't have to do cuttings anymore. And the reality is that when you use tissue culture in production, that's not really how it works. I mean, you always have to have plants. You always have to have stock plants and other plants and, you know, and you really...the production of plants through tissue culture includes both the tissue culture lab as well as the greenhouse. Because plants that are grown in the tissue culture lab can't just be immediately put into a greenhouse or into a field. They wouldn't survive. They've been grown in this very isolated climate-controlled environment. And you can't just simply put them out into the real world. They don't have the ability to survive.
And so, it's quite a delicate process to take the plants from, let's say the greenhouse to the tissue culture lab, clean them up, then produce them in the tissue culture labs and back to the greenhouse, and then from the greenhouse to growers. That process can take quite a significant amount of time. And it's also labor intensive and expensive and requires a specific set of expertise that can be hard to come by in today's labor environment. And so, it's really a little more complicated that I think a lot of people realize.
And I think the other misconception is that, you know, a lot of people have experience using tissue culture and plants as a research tool, you know, whether it's in graduate school or even an undergraduate and working in research labs and using it to understand the biology of the plant. And that's certainly an important use of tissue culture. But the difference between doing tissue culture that scale and using it to mass produce plants is significant. It's a whole different world when you go from a small isolated, you know, tissue culture lab, you know, with maybe one or two scientists that are highly trained, it might have PhDs and working very carefully in the lab to being able to produce millions and millions of plants on an annual basis with a team of people in a tissue culture lab. So it's just two very different worlds. I think there's also the idea that it's a quick and easy solution and I think I've heard people say, "Oh, we're just going to build our own tissue culture lab and, you know, we're going to start producing plants in less than a year."
And the reality is, and I've been very fortunate to assemble a team that's been doing this work for decades in large commercial, you know, settings. Places like Driscoll's and Syngenta and Ball horticultural. The reality is that to put a new crop into a clean stock program and tissue culture, it takes years. And, you know, it takes a minimum of six to nine months to get a new variety clean and stable and the tissue culture process and then to get it from there into production. You know, it can certainly take a years and especially to get into the large scale production of millions of plants. So, I think these are all a set of misconceptions that are out there in the industry. We've watched a lot of companies try to do this on their own and spend millions of dollars and not be able to execute. It's a little more challenging, I think, than people realize.
Matthew: Okay. And you mentioned, you know, you have virus-free, bacteria-free, all these different things did you do to keep the environment clean. How does the less sophisticated cultivator typically introduce disease to their plants?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, so the most common thing we see in cannabis is because it's so easy to vegetatively propagate, people find a plant that they really like and they take cuttings off of it and then they transfer it to their friend or their friends' friends. And, you know, they move these plants around and if proper clean stock processes are not put in place, then those cuttings in those plants simply carry along whatever might be present on the mother plant. So these could be pests like thrips or mites or aphids. There could also be viruses that people aren't aware that are, you know, residing inside the tissue of the plant. There can be bacteria and fungus and molds and all of these different pests and pathogens. They're out in the real world. So if you have a plant, whether it's growing in the field or in the greenhouse or an indoor grow, if it's...unless it's in a tissue culture lab, it's not in a sterile environment.
So it can be exposed to any number of these different pathogens. And so every time somebody transfers it from one environment to another, they not only bring along the pests and pathogens that were in the first environment, they also introduce the new ones and the second environment. And then you end up over time, as people move these plants around different facilities and different growers, you introduce more and more and more of these pests and pathogens. You know, and I think simple precautions like, you know, sterilizing your tools that you cut your plants with and making sure that you've got clean plugs that you're going to root your plants in, and just having a strong integrated pest management program in place in your grows so that you're constantly on top of your pests and pathogens. I mean, the reality is that in agriculture, when you go to a place there's pests, there's no way around it.
I mean, you know, we unfortunately have to live in the real world. In the real world, there's things like thrips and aphids and mites and they're just there. And so the idea that, you know, you don't have to pay attention to that is not a good one. You have to constantly stay on top of it and be proactive and take preventative measures to make sure that you don't get huge outbreaks. And especially in the spring when, you know, everything kind of comes back to life and all of the bugs, you know, kind of break out and start to attack the plants again. So, you know, it's really important that people take preventative measures. But yeah, I think that's a shortlist of the ways that we see folks introduce pests and pathogens.
Matthew: You have a goal of creating new plant varieties and new cannabinoid profiles. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, definitely. You know, when I look at this plant cannabis from the organic chemist perspective, you know, I see it as a treasure trove of unique small molecules. There's really not so many plants in the world like it. There's over 500 small molecules that are produced in this plant. Things like canabinoids, there's I think at least 110 or 115 unique cannabinoids that have been identified. I'm sure there's a few more that haven't been identified. There's terpenes and flavonoids, which just all of these unique small molecules, it's a pretty diverse, you know, a diverse group of compounds in this plant. And so, the two that everybody knows the most about are THC and then now CBD, which really just happened in the last few years. And I think we're really just at the tip of the iceberg.
I think there's a lot more cannabinoids and combinations of these small molecules that are going to be effective and in human disease and preventative health measures. And then, you know, and then even as a dietary supplement, when you start to look at hemp grain, as a protein source, you know, it's got to balance fatty acid profile and it's got fiber and has got a balanced amino acid profile. So, from a crop perspective, you know, whether it's cannabinoids or any of these other components, it really has the ability to produce a lot of unique things that I think are going to be beneficial to both humans and even animals and pets. You know, we're starting to see that now as well. So, we're certainly focused on trying to breed new varieties that can produce some of these unique canabinoids that hopefully will become a part of either dietary supplement or nutraceutical products or even pharmaceutical products or even nutritional products.
Matthew: Now, how do you think about the future of patenting cannabis plants and what that holds?
Dr. Jon: Well, it's a very interesting question. I mean, you know, the reality is that when you look at agriculture and just like any other industry, intellectual property or IP is often the foundation for a company's value. It's certainly the case in biotechnology, whether you're talking about diagnostics or agriculture or a drug development. And, you know, for better or worse, the only way to protect that IP is through patents. And so we've already seen some patents issued for cannabis plants. And I think we're certainly going to see more. You know, the reality is it's the only way to protect somebody's hard work. So, for example, if a plant breeder spends years breeding a new plant variety that has some very special trait, you know, the only way they can protect that hard work and recognize value would be to get some type of patents on it.
And, you know, while that might scare some people off, you know, I think you have to look at it from the breeder's perspective and say, "Wow, if they spend years in typically...in traditional plant breeding and even in cannabis breeding to create a new stable variety, you know, it really does take years of hard work." You know, if you look at it from their perspective, it's really the only way they can truly capture the value and protect the hard work that they've done. You know, and so, I think we're going to see a lot more of that. And, you know, and I think it's, like I've said, for better or worse, it's really just the way the world works in terms of intellectual property. Now, that being said, you know, I think it's important that growers and farmers have access to these plant varieties and, you know, and I think there's ways to develop intellectual property and create that value, but then also to provide access to farmers.
There's generally enough money to go around. And so, you know, while some groups of farmers may get early access to some new variety over time and traditional crops, you know, the folks that might have developed these unique varieties will make those varieties available and then occasionally, you know, they get...can get deposited and in public banks or made available to the public. And so, you know, I think we'll see that as well. And, you know, just because there's a patent on something doesn't mean it's not going to be available. It just means that somebody has a legal or they has the legal ability to generate revenue through a royalty off of the use of that product. And so, you know, I think as long as those royalties are not, you know, overly greedy in terms of, you know, limiting folk's ability and farmer's ability to grow these plants, you know, I think the system can work quite well so that everybody wins. The farmers get access to these new varieties and the breeders that develop them get the ability to recognize and create value from their hard work.
Matthew: Yeah, I think about things like that when I bite into like a honeycrisp apple and it's like, there's just something about those. And I know they've kind of been designed for the human mouth, mouth feel and taste buds and the crispiness and the sweetness level. Like everything has been engineered to perfect satisfaction and they're not too expensive. But I'm really glad they exist at the same time.
Dr. Jon: Yeah. And I think that's a great example. I mean, that, you know, that took a lot of hard work to create that variety and other varieties as well. I think the companies that invest the money, you know, you look at an agricultural company, you know, let's take Driscoll's, for example, that creates all of these unique strawberry and blackberry and raspberries and, you know, I mean, they invest millions and tens of millions of dollars, you know, to develop these varieties and produce them in a way that consumers trust and believe in. And they know that when they go to the supermarket and they buy that strawberry, it's going to taste the same. It's not going to be funky or weird. It's going to taste just like the strawberry that they were expecting it to. And, you know, I think that's an important thing to keep in mind.
Matthew: Where are we in sequencing the cannabis biome or genome? And what are your thoughts around that, in general?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, I think there's actually two parts to your question there. You mentioned the cannabis genome and then also the biome without considering the microbiome. And so when we look at cannabis, actually when you look at any organism or any plant, it's actually a combination of those two things. It's actual genome, so the genetics that make up the DNA that makes up that actual plant variety or even an animal or whatever it might be. And then you've also got the microbiome, which are all of the microbes and things like bacteria and yeast and fungus and all of those things that coexist with that, you know, with that plant. And so, with next-generation sequencing available in the technologies have been developed over the last really 10 years especially. You know, we can look at both of these genomes. We can look at the microbiome and all of the unique genomes there and the bacteria. And then we could also look at the plant's genome.
Cannabis, we're still very early in our understanding of the genome and it's...there's a few groups around the world that are working on it. There's been a few great papers that have been published over the last, even the last six months, a few papers had been released. You know, and I think there's...it's good to take a collection of research groups around the world to fully develop our understanding of the cannabis genome. I know we're working on it with University of California at Davis, you know, we hope to release some results or professor that's running that study is going to release some results over the next 6 to 12 months. There are other groups that are working on it as well, but when you look at a crop like corn for example, you know, I think the first fully annotated genome map didn't really come out until around 2012 and it took around 30 labs and over $30 million.
And so, you know, there's...we're still a far cry from being at the...our genomic understanding that we have and in other crops. So there's still a lot of work to do. I think the same is true for the microbiome. The microbiome is even more complex. When you start looking at that, you're talking about, you know, many, many different species of bacteria and yeast and microbes and it's, you know, it's going to take a long time before we understand how each of those play a role in interaction and growing of the cannabis plant. So, you know, I think to summarize, we're certainly working on our genomic understanding and hoping to make contributions to the broader scientific community, but also leverage some of that for our own internal breeding program and how we develop new plant varieties.
And I think there's a lot of other groups around the world, but I'd say it's still early. And I think, as I mentioned earlier in the interview, the complexity of this plant is significant. And the biological pathways does it make up the production of all of these unique small molecules, things like cannabinoids and terpenes and all the other components of the plant. They're very complicated and it's not as simple as, you know, "Oh there's a gene for this cannabinoid or that cannabinoid and you can turn it on or off. They're often interrelated. And so, you know, if one changes, it doesn't necessarily mean that, you know, you're going to wipe out that effect or, you know, you're going to change the production of that compound. A lot of these pathways are, you know, they intersect in different ways. And so, you know, biology is pretty amazing, if one pathway gets shut down, it will often open up another pathway. So I think it's still very early in our understanding of the cannabis gene
Matthew: Can you explain what CRISPR-Cas9 is for listeners that are unfamiliar and maybe what you think is great about the future with that and then maybe what you don't like about it or you think is not yet ready to do anything with? That makes sense?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, definitely. So CRISPR-Cas9 is really a tool that was discovered. It exists naturally in bacteria and archaea. And it's...these are microbes and it's a natural system that evolved to help these microbes fight off viruses that would come in. And without going into the weeds here, it's basically a complex set of molecular machinery. So things like enzymes and short pieces of DNA and RNA that all kind of work together to achieve a certain purpose at the, you know, at the molecular level, if you will. And so, you know, the bacteria use it naturally to, you know, go in and cut out pieces of DNA or RNA, you know, to basically cure itself of a virus that might have invaded the organism. And so what sites is they've done over the last 10 years is they've isolated this molecular machinery out of these bacteria and then they use it to go in and do similar types of molecular work.
So you can think of it as scissors, cutting DNA and going in and stepping out pieces and even inserting pieces. And so people have started to develop this tool both in plants and animals. And even folks who are looking at it for treatment of human disease, but they use this molecular machinery to go in and do what we call genome editing. And it's really, a lot of people, once again, a lot of times with science there's misconceptions, people, there was an article I think that came out and people said, "Oh, you can do CRISPR in your garage." And one of the guys that I always love the saying that, when the guys that did a lot of CRISPR work and runs a team for a company, which I won't even mention, but anyways, they, you know, he said, you know, "If somebody knows that guy, please tell him to send me his resume because, you know, if he could do it in his garage, he needs to be on my team."
It's actually a lot harder than everybody realizes it. It really can take years to use CRISPR genome editing to effectively accomplish a goal such as, you know, removing a target or inserting a target. And it also takes millions of dollars. It takes the right types of facilities and people and, you know, and I think in plants, we're certainly seeing the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technologies in a lot of different crops. But I think, you know, a lot of those crops are crops that have already been pushed to the limit in terms of what can be accomplished with breeding. So when you look at things like corn and, you know, how many bushels per acre you're yielding of corn and things like that, you know, minor increases are hugely valuable for these very large commodity farmers. You know, in cannabis, you know, the margins are still pretty high in terms of what you can generate for revenue from this crop.
So, you know, the need to employ these advanced technologies, I'd say it's still a little bit early for it. And there's certainly a lot of folks talking about it and wanting to do it, but I think you'll find that, you know, just like everything else, it's a lot harder than it might appear based on what you hear in the press and, you know, the internet. And I think it's going to take quite some time before we see, you know, true CRISPR genome edited, you know, cannabis products out on the market. And the last thing to keep in mind is there's also a big regulatory component. You know, I think there's...whenever you do anything like that, especially in the United States, but around the world, you start doing genome editing or even things like genetic modification, you know, there's regulatory concerns that come into play.
So a lot of these crops are highly regulated and to, you know, it's one thing to make it work and it's another thing to get it to the marketplace. And then obviously, there's a big public concern with GMOs right now in the United States and around the world. And so, you know, so I think most companies approach, you know, product development with those technologies with some caution because of market reaction and then also the regulatory hurdles that have to be overcome to actually get those products in the marketplace.
Matthew: I mean, just putting on just my conjecture hat, I mean, when this CRISPR-Cas9 technology more stable and well understood in the future, what's possible. I mean, could you combine elements of the coffee and cannabis plants to do something interesting? Because, you know, you mentioned you're in coffee and I'm always thinking, you know, coffee's great, but like if you have just a little bit too much coffee, it's like it's not so good. I think like chocolate has a little bit better onset of that, like a little bit and fed, I mean, I think it's the theobromine they call it. Like, is there a way to tweak that or do something? I mean, what do you think is possible there in terms of customizing our experiences with these plants?
Dr. Jon: Oh, that's a fun question. I mean, I think realistically, you know, the ability to combine two very different plants like coffee and cannabis, you know, that's science fiction at this point. You know, it's really, you know, coffee is like, it is a tree. It's a perennial plant. It takes years. And it, you know and cannabis is more like a...it what's an annual and it's a grass. It dies every year. So there's big differences biologically that make it kind of hard. It's like saying, you know, it's kind of like looking at my livestock guardian dog that takes care of my goats. And then looking at the cute baby goats and thinking, "Gosh, if only we could combine those two into this new little creature, it'd be the cutest thing that ever walked the earth." The reality is it's not going to happen as much as...as much as they might try, it's just not going to happen.
So, you know, but I think, you know, I think there are going to be opportunities as we better understand that the genome of both of these plants and improve our breeding practices and everything else that we will see some interesting traits come out of them. You know, and the ability to develop, you know, whether it's new flavors for coffee, which is, you know, kind of one of the things that we're working on or that Range is working on in terms of their breeding efforts. How do you produce these truly exquisite flavors in the coffee bean that are, you know, that you don't get from other types of coffee. And I think we'll see the same types of things and cannabis and, you know, there's certainly the potential for it to have unique effects as well. You know, you mentioned something like theobromine or, you know, obviously there's caffeine in coffee and then there's THC and CBD and all these other cannabinoids in cannabis today. I think we'll certainly see the fine tuning of some of those small molecules and end each of these plants which might produce different effects, definitely produce different flavors. But, you know, I think for sure we'll see some customization of the user experience, you know, directly from planet breeding.
Matthew: Okay. And thanks for letting me down easy there. You told me very gently I was being crazy, but I think, you know, I think I read an article about how like some tomato cultivators used a gene from a spider. Do you remember that story and what that's about?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, definitely. So there are certainly, I don't remember the specific one about tomato and a spider, but the one that I'm thinking of was actually from a goat and a spider where they actually...the goat, they insert some genes from the spider that produce the web that spiders spin. And then it came out inside the goat's milk and then they actually extracted that fiber and we're using it for different processes. So there are those examples out there where you can, you know, you can take a piece of biology from one animal or one plant and put it into another one. Those things are certainly possible with the technologies today. But, you know, there comes a lot of concerns and questions that go with that that those types of applications, I mean, you know, is it fair to, you know, to animals or whatever it is? Is it safe?
And are there other effects that we don't recognize? So, you know, it definitely is possible, but I'd say those are, are generally outlier situations and not the norm. Generally speaking, when you start playing around with the biology of an organism like that, you know, it doesn't survive. You know, nature kind of has done things better than we do still. And there's a reason for that. And, you know, I think these things evolved to function in the way that they do in their existing environment. And when we'd go and play around too much with that, the outcomes are not always as good as we'd like. So, you know, so I think it's possible, but I don't think it's going to be the norm. And I think it's a lot more challenging than, you know, than people realize.
Matthew: What footprints do you operate in besides Colorado? How can different people listing, "We want to work with you in different geographies. Reach out." How does that work?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, so our largest footprint is currently in Colorado. It's where we manage all of our hemp operations out of. We have a tissue culture lab here. We have indoor breeding facility and research facility. And then we also have several greenhouses that we use for production of young plants and seed production as well. We also have a greenhouse facility in Wisconsin that we use to distribute young plants to farmers in the Wisconsin area and also the Midwest. We also have some partnerships in California. So, we have a tissue culture lab and a greenhouse for our coffee plants in Gilroy, California. And then we have some partnerships with some licensed cannabis companies in California so that we can implement our clean stock technology to produce clean plants for growers in the regulated California Cannabis market. So, you know, so those are the geographical areas. We're working on additional areas which I can't talk about right now, but there'll be some announcements in the near future about that.
Matthew: Damn it, Jon, don't give us teasers. We want the meat.
Dr. Jon: I know, I know, but I have to keep some things for later. So yeah, so we're working on expansion and trying to get our varieties as well as our technology, you know, out throughout the United States as well as internationally. So, you know, so people can reach out to us on our website, frontrangebio.com. There's a lot of information about us there and email addresses and order inquiry forms and requests for services and things of that nature. So I encourage people to check us out there.
Matthew: All right. Just a couple more questions before I let you go. Where are you in the capital raising process?
Dr. Jon: So we just closed a $10 million series A last fall of 2018, and so we're in pretty good shape currently, but given the rapid growth of this market and the demand that we're seeing, I anticipate that we'll probably raise some more money this year. We certainly have a lot of interest on the investor side, and I think given the fast pace that this industry is seeing in terms of growth, and then especially when you look at the growth in hemp from the passage of the Farm Bill this year, I think there's a huge opportunity and a huge need for what we do in the marketplace. And so, yeah, so I'd say stay tuned. And we're certainly considering...we're planning our strategy for our next round of fundraising. But I would anticipate that that happens at some point this year.
Matthew: Okay. And is there...I want to ask you a few personal development questions to help listeners get a better sense of who you are personally. Is there a book that's had a big impact on your life for your way of thinking that you'd like to share?
Dr. Jon: Wow, that's a great question. There's probably a couple that I would point out. The first was one that I read a long time ago in the early '90s. I'm a book called "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn and it's really about...it's really interesting book. It's an interaction between a young scientist and a gorilla who's lived for quite a long time. And they actually have...the book is basically an entire conversation or dialogue between these two. And the gorilla, you know, from the gorilla species standpoint, his view of the human race and civilization and it really brings up a lot of interesting points about how, you know, modern technology and human civilization and how it's evolved. You know, over thousands and thousands of years. And it looks at it from, you know, from the gorillas perspective. And so that was really, really interesting. It definitely made me think a little bit differently about our world and modern technology.
And the other one I think there's really interesting is the four agreements. It's a book. It's a very short book, but it's about kind of a set of guidelines that come from a tribe called the Toltecs, a pre-Columbian tribe out of Central and South America. And, you know, and it's really about just how to live your daily life. It's a...I think the four agreements are being impeccable with your word, don't take things personally, don't make assumptions and always do your best. And I think it's a great set of a daily guidelines to live by. And they certainly have had a big impact on my life. And I certainly try to achieve that on a regular basis.
Matthew: Is there a tool you use that is helpful for your or your team's productivity that you'd like share of?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, you know, I think one of the things that I've done over the last year, I have a great CEO coach who's been around for quite a long time. I won't mention his name or his age, but, and he gave me a book about a year ago called "Traction." And it's really been a great tool for me in terms of helping grow the company effectively. And they have what they call the entrepreneurial operating system. And it's really a set of guidelines and in a structural way to view your company as you grow it, and how to build your management team and how to effectively hire and manage people. And so I highly recommend that book to any entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs. It's really a great tool for management and for building a successful company. It's a lot of work being an entrepreneur and being in the driver's seat for a startup company is really, really tough. And I think that book has a lot of great insight in order to execute effectively in the entrepreneur endeavors...entrepreneurial endeavors that somebody might go through.
Matthew: Here's a Peter Thiel question for you. What important truth to very few people agree with you on?
Dr. Jon: That's a pretty funny one. I don't know, the thing that that comes to mind, you know, is a lot of people might say this, but I don't know that many of them truly believe it or are actually truly live it. But it's what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. I think I've experienced this throughout my entire life and, you know, a lot of times things that might seem like an unfortunate situation or things that are really hard or challenges that you feel like you're never going to be able to overcome. You know, I think if you stay patient and you stay focused, and you overcome them, I think it does make you stronger and I think it opens up new doors and new opportunities. And I think that's certainly been true in my life and there's been a lot of moments where I wanted to give up and, and not live that out. But I have, and I think it's how I've gotten here and I'm going to continue to take that approach and I've certainly heard other people say it, but a lot of times it's a tough one to actually live. A lot of times you can get discouraged and give up or turn away from sayings just because they're challenging or they're not going the way you want them to. And I think that it's important to push through those things.
Matthew: Yeah. It sounds like this cold is going to make you stronger, this deep voice.
Dr. Jon: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Matthew: John, as we close, can you tell listeners how they can learn more about Front Range Biosciences? How to connect with you or...and also for accredited investors that are interested in learning more about your next round of capital raise?
Dr. Jon: Yeah, definitely. So our website is the best place to start. www.frontrangebio.com. We're on Facebook and Instagram as well, in LinkedIn, so you can certainly reach out to us that way. And depending on what the person's interest is, you know, we've got folks that will direct you to the right person. You know, investors, you know, are certainly welcome to reach out to me directly through any of those channels. And I'm always happy to speak with folks. We also are out at conferences on a regular basis. We have a big one coming up here in Colorado, the NoCo Hemp Expo. It's going to be in Denver this year. We're going to have a big booth and a lot of our staff will be on site. We're probably gonna even offer some tours of one of our facilities. And so, I think that's at the end of March. I can't remember the exact days, but it's a Friday and Saturday last weekend of March. So we'll certainly...I'd encourage people to come out there. And then stay tuned, we'll be announcing some other conferences that will be out at as well, both in California and some other places as well to share.
Matthew: Jon, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. Keep us updated as these developments continue to evolve. This is really exciting stuff.
Dr. Jon: Absolutely. Well, I appreciate the opportunity to do the interview and hopefully it was helpful and the folks out in the audience learned a thing or two and yeah, I hope we get a chance to speak again. I'm always happy to do this.
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