Origin and evolution of the cannabinoid oxidocyclase gene family

R. van Velzen*, M.E. Schranz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Cannabis is an ancient crop representing a rapidly increasing legal market, especially for medicinal purposes. Medicinal and psychoactive effects of Cannabis rely on specific terpenophenolic ligands named cannabinoids. Recent whole-genome sequencing efforts have uncovered variation in multiple genes encoding the final steps in cannabinoid biosynthesis. However, the origin, evolution, and phylogenetic relationships of these cannabinoid oxidocyclase genes remain unclear. To elucidate these aspects, we performed comparative genomic analyses of Cannabis, related genera within the Cannabaceae family, and selected outgroup species. Results show that cannabinoid oxidocyclase genes originated in the Cannabis lineage from within a larger gene expansion in the Cannabaceae family. Localization and divergence of oxidocyclase genes in the Cannabis genome revealed two main syntenic blocks, each comprising tandemly repeated cannabinoid oxidocyclase genes. By comparing these blocks with those in genomes from closely related species we propose an evolutionary model for the origin, neofunctionalization, duplication, and diversification of cannabinoid oxidocycloase genes. Based on phylogenetic analyses, we propose a comprehensive classification of three main clades and seven subclades that is intended to aid unequivocal referencing and identification of cannabinoid oxidocyclase genes. Our data suggest that cannabinoid phenotype is primarily determined by presence/absence of single-copy genes. Although wild populations of Cannabis are still unknown, increased sampling of landraces and wild/feral populations across its native geographic range is likely to uncover additional cannabinoid oxidocyclase sequence variants.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberevab130
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • biosynthesis pathway
  • Cannabis sativa L
  • comparative genomics
  • gene copy number variation
  • gene evolution
  • synteny


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