The Phylos Galaxy

The Phylos Galaxy

The Phylos Galaxy is a 3D visualization of the cannabis world. It uses DNA sequence data to map the relationships between cannabis varieties—and we think it will blow your mind.

The Cannabis Evolution Project

The Galaxy is the result of The Cannabis Evolution Project, a two-year collaboration with Rob Desalle, a curator and phylogeneticist at the American Museum of Natural History. We’ve sequenced the genomes of thousands of ancient and modern cannabis samples, and we’re still working hard to tell the evolutionary story of this diverse and amazing plant.

Phylos Genotype

Very soon, you’ll be able to submit your own samples, and take your place in the Galaxy.

Once we all know what plants we actually have, everything will change. People who love particular strains will be able to find them again, patients will have access to standardized medicine, and breeders will be able to create like never before.

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How does it work?
Each node, or star, in the galaxy represents a single cannabis plant. The distances between nodes show how similar they are. The lines show how related they are. Samples that share a lot of the same DNA will be very close. Samples that are likely to be a sibling-sibling pair, or a parent-child pair, will have heredity lines connecting them. The colors just cluster the different regions into “tribes”.

How did you make the Galaxy?
We sequenced the DNA of many, many cannabis samples, and compared them. We mapped those relationships into three dimensions using Principal Components Analysis, a well-established technique in the field of population genetics. We combined this approach with other statistical genetics methods that generate “heredity lines” connecting closely related samples; and then we made it interactive. These techniques have never been combined into a single visualization before, for any species.

Why is Phylos sequencing the DNA of all these Cannabis varieties?
We want to know how Cannabis has evolved, what its history was like, and how it has co-evolved with humans. And we want to know what domestication does to the shape of evolution. We want to understand today’s crazy mix of hybrid strains. We want to know where they came from, why they’re so different, and what makes each one unique. And we want consumers and patients to finally know what they’re getting and be able to get it again.

Which one is the real Sour Diesel?
It turns out that’s not a scientific question. It’s a question for the whole community to decide. We hope the Galaxy will be a tool that makes that possible.

Why isn’t it a tree?
Evolutionary trees are made for showing how different species separate from each other forever. Hybridization starts to tangle those branches back together. When you have one interbreeding population, then the whole thing becomes a network. Or a scatterplot. Or, in this case, both.

What’s next?
The Galaxy will be growing rapidly. We’ll be adding hundreds of new samples every month—especially the rare, ancient, and landrace varieties we’ve collected DNA for. The heredity lines will become more informative, as we start to be able to tease out exactly what kinds of relationships each one indicates. Very soon we’ll add additional information about the samples, tools for comparing them, and new types of data visualization. We’ll also be doing frequent updates that will add features and refine the usability of the Galaxy. And, oh yeah, a feedback tool so you can help us with all of this.