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A Better Way to Pheno Hunt: Use Portable Near-Infrared Spectrology While Hunting for your Genetics


Scroll through Instagram right now and you’ll see at least a dozen seed banks and breeders posting about the most desirable new strains and crosses of 2020. For the sake of this post, we’ll assume that if you’re here reading this, you know the difference between a Back Cross and a bag seed and that no one, pro or home grow, should just buy seeds willy-nilly. 

A few advances in the tech that allows seeds to be separated easily and cheaply from the plant has made selling seeds online for both THC and CBD dominant strains a cottage industry. Many major cannabis companies have begun a seed division, where their proprietary genetics are released in packs of ten. 

It is an open secret in the industry that most of the “breeders” selling gear online simply do not have the knowledge, experience, or patience to produce a thoroughly vetted, and stable genetic cross. With all this pollen getting chucked far and wide there is a lot of trash to sift through. The late appearance of hermaphroditic traits, or an unpredictable or inconsistent cannabinoid profile in a strain, can spell disaster for cultivators that put these plants into production. The risk of accidentally pollinating a crop is bad enough, but there are other risks as well. If a crop is rendered not viable for sale as flower because of unpredictable genetic behavior, all the pre-ordered labels and package that were based on production projections are also put in limbo. 

Of course, there are actual breeders doing the careful deliberate work of selective breeding, and there are literally thousands of strains to choose from. Find these companies and stock up! There are some genetic lines that are expressing truly awe-inspiring traits, and it’s never been easier to get your hands on the top genetic lines. Delta9 Systems has had great experiences with Sin City Seeds, Swamp Boys Seeds, and Thug Pug Genetics. Breeders of this caliber are creating the genetic foundation of the whole industry to come.

Now that we are almost into May, and the cuts taken in Feb are now plants for this years’ season, lots of farmers are popping beans, looking for the next exclusive flavor. It is pheno-hunting season! 

For cultivators, pheno-hunting is one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of cannabis cultivation. As more and more of the cultivation process becomes automated, pheno-hunting in the R&D room can be a welcome return to a more personal experience with the plants. When cultivators pheno hunt, they are seeking out the strain with the best phenotypes — the physically visible traits — among a group of the same seeds. Popping seeds is a lot like a treasure hunt to find the ideal version of a strain, and when you find that one pheno that expresses all the ideal traits, it’s like winning the lottery.

The search for the perfect phenotypes 

Which phenotypes are most desirable? The answer depends on what’s most important to the cultivator. Different traits produce different flavors and effects. These traits typically include:

Aroma or Nose (terpene profile)

Trichome production 

Characteristics of the Resin

Flowering time of the plant

Overall structure of the plant

Resistance to pests

Stress effects

Average yields

Cannabinoid concentration, especially the ratio of THC to CBD, which is the most commonly accepted indicator of cannabis “potency.”

Each cultivator has a method to discern the traits they are looking for. Typically, after vegging a batch of seedlings until they are about 6-12 inches tall, the cultivator will clone the test batch, carefully recording and labeling which plant is which, and then flowering the seedlings. The “keeper” seedlings, or those who are expressing favorable traits are preserved, and the rest are discarded. After several generations of cloning and flowering the plants with desired qualities (and eliminating the ones with poor or unstable qualities), the cultivator will end up with one winning pheno. This is a highly meticulous process that takes months, sometimes years, to achieve. 

Why is pheno hunting so important? 

Starting with a clone from a third-party seems like a good shortcut, but it can come with unknown hazards. Any new plant from an outside source carries the risk of pests, infection, or unpredictable characteristics. That’s why most cultivators of large commercial operations prefer to start from seed and find their ideal cut of that strain. Even if a clone is from a trusted source, plants from the same mother plant can end up with a dramatically different harvest if they are grown in a different environment, by different people. Pheno hunting gives cultivators the ultimate control over their cannabis operation, allowing them to weed out the “runts” from the potential contenders and narrow down the best version of the strain to put into their unique production operation. 

In private gardens, choosing the right phenotype is equally as important. For the Medical Cannabis Community, it’s especially important to know the concentration of THC and CBD when growing since different ratios will provide different effects in cannabis therapy. Without an effective pheno hunting process, home growers risk using up their precious time and resources on subpar strains. If those plants are needed for medicine, there’s no time to waste. 

The Purpl PRO: A cannabis cultivator’s secret weapon 

Nothing’s more frustrating than ending up with a perfectly structured flower, but for some reason, the THC to CBD potency ratio is not what was anticipated. Conversely, an unassuming, or just plain ugly flower could have a favorable THC to CBD ratio, and get discarded due to its appearance. Choosing the wrong plants to keep or eliminate is a time-consuming mistake that no cultivator wants to make. 

Thankfully, the days of having to make guesses or assumptions about cannabis potency are over. Now, cultivators are able to test flowers for THC and CBD potency as they grow with a new tool called the Purple PRO


With the Purpl PRO portable cannabis potency testing device, it’s possible to test flowers early in the grow to determine if the desired THC and CBD potency ratios are present. Using near-infrared technology, the Purpl PRO measures the concentration of both THC and CBD with lab-level accuracy, enabling growers to quickly identify which cultivars aren’t performing as expected so they can be removed and free up space. As you can imagine, this tool helps save time, effort and money in the pheno hunting process. 

The Purpl PRO connects to any smartphone, and its portable nature allows it to be easily carried anywhere plants are growing, indoors or outdoors. Best of all, it’s easy to use, so anyone in your garden can take advantage of instant cannabis potency measurement at their fingertips. By providing on-the-spot testing with astounding accuracy, the Purpl PRO improves quality and integrity throughout the value chain. 

Before popping seeds, put the power of the lab in your pocket!

Delta9 Systems is proud to be an authorized distributor of the Purpl PRO, and we make it easy to purchase online. Questions? We got you! Contact us for details and demonstrations of the Purpl PRO. 

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Chris Guthrie
Chris is the General Manager of Delta9 Systems, a division of General Data Co. He is an expert in the cannabis industry, having participated in the birth of the cannabis industry in Washington, and has operated one of the first and oldest medical dispensaries in Seattle. For a decade, Chris has participated in the design and managed the construction of dozens of indoor gardens, and has been involved in cultivation, processing, retail operations, as well as industry activism.
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