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Pot purveyors get wise to instrumentation; steelhead trout shift their genetic gears

by Marc S. Reisch
July 1, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 27


Budding analytical scientists

A cartoon of chemistry students.
Credit: Shutterstock
Counterculture: Marijuana growers have become eager chemistry students.

Cannabis sativa growers and purveyors have become eager analytical chemistry students, reports Andrew James, marketing director for the small gas chromatography instrument maker Ellutia. The firm has even designed educational courses on analytical techniques for the growers and purveyors of the fabled weed increasingly used for recreational and medical purposes.

“I enjoy working with people in the cannabis industry. They are all so passionate about cannabis and they want to absorb so much knowledge,” James tells the Newscripts gang.

Apparently it’s not just the uplifting aroma of marijuana wafting in the air that these cannabis aficionados seek to absorb. They are also eager to sniff out skills necessary to scrutinize the green stuff for safety and potency.

Pot growers are not the usual sort of buyers of a serious piece of analytical equipment, James admits. At a cannabis conference he attended in Spain not long ago, James says he was dressed in jeans and a polo shirt and definitely “looked overdressed” compared with other attendees. Nevertheless, he says, “these were people who wanted to learn.”

Because of the industry’s counterculture past, “growers never did much testing,” James explains. But that has all changed now that government authorities in the U.S. and Europe are liberalizing laws governing use and sale of the tropical plant and its derivatives.

Sadly, growers and purveyors “have no idea what gas chromatography is,” James says. But on the bright side, “they have no preconceived notions” either and so make ideal students for a line of simple-to-use gas chromatographs that Ellutia first developed for the education market.

The Newscripts gang can imagine Ellutia workshop students getting a thrill as they watch their analytical device take a toke on a marijuana sample. But James says the soon-to-be-offered workshop will get down to some serious business teaching budding hemp scientists, who might never have otherwise set foot in a lab, about the use of appropriate columns, methods, and calibration standards. The firm will offer the workshop under its Gas Chromatography Excellence Academy program.

Sure, other gas chromatographs from big-name makers are up to the marijuana industry’s analytical challenge, acknowledges James. Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, for instance, introduced a cannabis potency analyzer in 2017 for users without chromatography experience. James admits that the big makers have name recognition and Ellutia does not. But with small growers in particular, that fact gives Ellutia an edge, he says, because of “our less corporate vibe.”


Adept at adapting

A photo of steelhead trout all swimming in the same direction.
Credit: John McMillan/Purdue University
Gene-ius: Pacific steelhead trout take a spin in Lake Michigan.

The adaptation of scientific instruments for new markets and educational uses is a significant feat. A bit more awe inspiring is how formerly ocean-migrating trout have adapted to life in the fresh water of Lake Michigan.


In the late 1800s, recreational and commercial anglers fooled with Mother Nature when they introduced steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), members of the salmon family that live in the salty Pacific Ocean, into Lake Michigan. To adapt, the Michigan steelheads did a bit of gene editing on their own, according to a study conducted by researchers at Purdue University, Oregon State University, and Michigan State University (Mol. Ecol. 2018, DOI: 10.1111/mec.14726).

Two regions of chromosomes that maintain salt and ion balance across membranes in the body changed in the Michigan steelheads compared with their Pacific cousins, helping them survive in a freshwater environment. A third region involved in metabolism and wound healing also changed, allowing for better healing in fresh water.

Certain analytical chemistry students and trout would have to agree that it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive but those who can adapt to change.

Marc Reisch wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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