VATIS Update Biotechnology . Apr-Jun 2016

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Biotechnology Apr-Jun 2016

ISSN: 0971-5622

VATIS Update Biotechnology is published 4 times a year to keep the readers up to date of most of the relevant and latest technological developments and events in the field of Biotechnology. The Update is tailored to policy-makers, industries and technology transfer intermediaries.

Co-publisher: Biotech Consortium India Ltd
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India to develop diagnostic biomarkers for TB

The department of biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, will soon begin research and development (R&D) for development of innovative, field-applicable and cost-effective diagnostic biomarkers for tuberculosis (TB). The thrust areas of the research programme include innovative and highly specific point of care test to rule out tuberculosis or a highly sensitive screening test (Triage Test); diagnostic tests for paediatric tuberculosis; rapid tests to detect and differentiate non-tuberculous Mycobacteria from M. tuberculosis directly in clinical samples.

In addition it includes diagnosis of extra-pulmonary tuberculosis (EPTB) using alternative samples such as whole blood, serum/plasma, urine, sweat etc; diagnostic markers for prognosis and treatment outcome (cure or treatment failure); host/mycobacterial biomarkers to predict the clinical disease from latent infection; and biomarkers of treatment compliance/non-compliance. The DBT’s initiative in this regard is significant as the country has for the last some years been witnessing the fast spread of multidrug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug resistant (XDR) TB.

Stem cell therapy receives global validation

An idea that stemmed from an intellectual exchange between Dr. Virender Sangwan, director – Srujana Centre for Innovation, India, Centre for Regenerative Ophthalmology and Clinical Research, and Dr. Sheila McNeil, Professor of Regenerative Medicine, Linköping University, Sweden, has completely revolutionised the world of stem cell medicine. In 2010, L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), India, moved away from culturing corneal stem cells in a petri-dish in the laboratory to directly culturing and expanding them on the patient’s eye.

This technique was termed Simple Limbal Epithelial Transplantation (SLET) to contrast it from the radical tissue transplants and complex culture techniques that were the standard of care at that time. SLET completely eliminates the need for laboratory based processing thereby making it possible to be executed by any well trained surgeon anywhere. SLET has been adopted by corneal surgeons the world over, including institutions like Harvard and Bascom Palmer in USA. This simple technique reduces cost as well as visits for the patients.

A pilot clinical trial was done on a small sample size including 125 patients, 65 adults and 60 children who developed unilateral limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) after suffering ocular surface burns and underwent SLET between 2010 and 2014. The results indicated close to 80 per cent success rates. This makes SLET clinically a more effective procedure than all previous techniques including cell cultivation. SLET has demolished the invisible walls that had made limbal stem cell transplantation an exclusive procedure.

Funding for new bulk drug parks in India

The Government of India is looking at the financial viability for providing Rs 200 crore each to three new bulk drug manufacturing parks in order to create common minimum facilities. In 2013, government constituted a high level committee to study the whole issue of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). “The committee has since submitted its recommendations. After examining the recommendations, government is now looking into the financial viability of supporting the proposal for providing assistance for common minimum facilities for three API parks to the extent of Rs 200 crore each,” said Minister Hansraj Gangaram Ahir.

The panel was also given the mandate to work out a package of interventions/concessions required to build domestic production capabilities and examine the cost implications. It has suggested setting up of mega parks to manufacture APIs with common facilities like testing, power and effluent treatment plants. It has also suggested establishing common utilities and services such as storage, testing laboratories, IPR management, designing and guest house/accommodation maintained by a separate special purpose vehicle (SPV).

The committee also recommended fiscal and financial benefits to promote the sector. “The government is also working in association with Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and Ministry of Commerce & Industry to sort out issues relating to the difficulties being faced by the bulk drug manufacturers relating to environmental issues,” said Ahir. Bulk drugs are used as raw materials by the pharma industry. India meets about 80 per cent of its demand of bulk drugs through import from China.

India and Japan to begin joint research

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Department of Bacteriology, National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), Japan, will soon begin collaborative research programme in the field of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and development of national integrated surveillance programme. The research programme on AMR will focus on the development of integrated surveillance programme covering epidemiology data and genomic data of antimicrobial resistance; mutual exchange of information of molecular and epidemiological data of antimicrobial resistance by developing of comparable surveillance programme in each country.

The letter of intent signed by India and Japan noted that “Recognizing the global burden of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and its impact on global health security; Recalling ‘the memorandum of cooperation between the ministry of health, labour and welfare of Japan and the ministry of health and family welfare of Republic of India in the field of healthcare’ signed on September 1, 2014; and Desiring to start collaboration between NIID of Japan and ICMR of the Republic of India in antimicrobial resistance research”.

China to ‘facilitate’ new GM crops

China will “facilitate” the planting of genetically modified (GM) corn and other plants on an industrial scale in the next five years, after not authorising any new commercial GM crops for a decade. The controversial science is a key trade issue with the US, whose biotechnology giant Monsanto is a global leader in the field, while its rival Syngenta, Switzerland, has agreed a USD 43 billion takeover offer by ChemChina, China. Only two GM crops are currently commercially cultivated in the country – a type of cotton approved in 1996, and a virus resistant papaya authorised in 2006.

GM soya, corn, cotton and rape can be imported as raw materials and as ingredients in processed products. Processed sugar beet imports are also allowed. Beijing is pro-biotechnology as it has long been concerned over the world’s most populous country’s ability to feed itself – a fear that factored into the introduction of its controversial one-child policy. But large-scale cultivation of GM crops remains sensitive as environmentalists and some scientists warn against the technology’s as-yet-unknown long-term consequences for biodiversity and human health.

Corn is the top grain in China by both production and sown area – much of it used for animal feed – with rice only in second place, followed by wheat. The Chinese government will continue research on GM rice and wheat over the next five years. GM crops are sometimes found being grown illegally in the country and had authorities “rooted out” GM rice in the central province of Hubei. Last year government destroyed a total of 73 hectares of GM corn in several areas. “Sporadic illegal planting of (GM crops) does exist in some areas and we will crack down harshly on it,” said Liao Xiyuan, an official with the Chinese agriculture ministry.

Pharmaceutical market in the Republic of Korea

According to research and consultancy firm GlobalData, the United Kingdom, the pharmaceutical market in Republic of Korea will rise from approximately $18.6 billion in 2016 to $20.4 billion in 2020, representing Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 2.4%, as the government increasingly focuses on generics in order to reduce healthcare expenditure. Republic of Korea’s generics market increased from $3.5 billion in 2008 to around $5.8 billion in 2015, growing at a CAGR of 7%, as the government has invested significantly in the generics market in recent years.

Many novel drugs are set to lose their patents by 2020, meaning Republic of Korea’s generics market is expected to increase significantly. “Overall market growth is expected to be influenced by burgeoning treatment populations and various government initiatives to encourage Research and Development (R&D) and sustain growth in the pharmaceutical industry, such as the Korean Small Business Innovation Research program,” said Mr. Adam Dion, GlobalData’s Senior Industry Analyst.

Other government initiatives will also aid businesses, such as lifting the ban on advertisements for medical services, which has enabled hospitals to hire advertising agencies to help them attract medical tourists. “The Free Trade Agreement with the US, which began in March 2012, has had the effect of lowering tariffs for imports up to 80%, and nearly 95% of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products has become duty-free for up to 5 years, making investment in the South Korean pharmaceutical industry easier for multinational companies,” explained Dion.

Cheaper diagnostic tool for TB

According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), an indigenous and cost-effective diagnostic tool for tuberculosis (TB) is expected to be available in a year. “A Bengaluru-based company has made the new diagnostic tool which is going to be more point-of-care and we hope it will be as good as GeneXpert test. If our evaluation shows positive result, then it may replace GeneXpert. The idea is to reduce the cost and have an indigenous diagnostic tool,” said Soumya Swaminathan, at ICMR.

GeneXpert is a popular test for detecting TB that provides result in a couple of hours with minimal hands-on technical time. ICMR is focused on research for better treatment strategies and diagnostics and is also working to speed up rapid diagnostics for TB. “But implementation of the programme is also equally important,” added Swaminathan.

Using stem cells to treat clinically dead

Indian specialist Dr Himanshu Bansal, working with Biotech companies Revita Life Sciences, India, and Bioquark Inc, the United States, has been granted ethical permission to recruit 20 patients who have been declared clinically dead from a traumatic brain injury, to test whether parts of their central nervous system can be brought back to life. Scientists will use a combination of therapies, which include injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides, as well as deploying lasers and nerve stimulation techniques which have been shown to bring patients out of comas.

The trial participants will have been certified dead and only kept alive through life support. They will be monitored for several months using brain imaging equipment to look for signs of regeneration, particularly in the upper spinal cord – the lowest region of the brain stem which controls independent breathing and heartbeat. The team believes that the brain stem cells may be able to erase their history and re-start life again, based on their surrounding tissue – a process seen in the animal kingdom in creatures like salamanders who can regrow entire limbs.

Cayman Islands to deploy GM mosquitoes

Biotech company Oxitec, the United Kingdom, and the Cayman Islands government has announced to release millions of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the fight against a species that spreads Zika and other diseases. Deployment of the mosquitoes against the Aedes aegypti species in the Cayman Islands is a major advance for Oxitec, the United Kingdom, which has promoted the method heavily as an environmentally safe way to combat the vectors of mosquito-borne illnesses while confronting public concerns about the technology.

Oxitec has deployed its mosquitoes to fight Zika in Brazil following initial trials there and previously conducted tests in the Cayman Islands and Panama. “The Cayman government approved the full deployment after what they called a successful, peer-reviewed trial in 2010. “We have wanted to remove this invasive pest for a long time but this has proven very difficult using currently available tools on an island the size of Grand Cayman, so we have been looking for new approaches,” said Bill Petrie, the director of the British territory’s Mosquito Research and Control Unit.

Regional Centre for Biotechnology in India

Recently the Parliament of India has passed The Regional Centre for Biotechnology Bill, 2016. The Bill seeks to establish a Regional Centre for Biotechnology, an institution of education, training and research, under the auspices of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the National Capital Region and declare it to be an institution of national importance. The Regional Centre for Biotechnology will take up research and innovation and impart education and training in the new areas of Biotechnology at the interface of multiple disciplines of science creating a hub of technology expertise.

It has been considered as a powerful enabling technology that can revolutionize agriculture, healthcare, industrial processing and environmental sustainability,” said Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences. This will help save lives of millions of affected poor children; inexpensive diagnostic technologies and affordable generic drugs to treat deadly diseases like Celiac, HIV, Dengue, Hepatitis C; drought and disease resistant crops that help in enhancing agricultural productivity.


Paper-based Zika diagnostic tests

Developed by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States, a new paper-based rapid test for Zika virus could be a valuable tool for health workers in areas that don’t have access to more complicated diagnostic technology. It’s also sensitive enough to distinguish between Zika and common related viruses like dengue, a challenge that hampers some conventional diagnostic tools. And its inventors say it could be ready for use in the field in a matter of months. According to the inventors of this test it can detect Zika virus in plasma from infected monkeys.

They also found that it not only distinguishes between Zika and dengue but also between different Zika strains. This could provide valuable information to health workers because genetic variation may lead to different symptoms. For example, a strain found in Brazil seems to be more closely linked than others to higher incidences of fetal microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare immunological disorder that may be triggered by Zika virus. At the heart of the new diagnostic test is a piece of paper that on its surface contains biological machinery, that can carry out gene expression.

A specialized gene is paired with a sensor made of RNA, which triggers the production of a purple-colored protein when exposed to target sequences from the viral genome found in the blood of an infected patient. In this case, the researchers added new components to the system for collecting and preparing the sample, and for distinguishing between individual Zika strains using the gene-editing tool CRISPR. The system is freeze-dried on the paper and then rehydrated when needed. Each test, which can process a sample in about three hours, can be stored at room temperature for up to year and costs less than a dollar to make.

First vaccine against Rota virus

Aiming to slash the prevalence of violence-borne diarrhoea, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), Government of India, has launched the Rota Virus vaccine, which will be available free of cost at public healthcare facilities, initially in four states. “This is not a routine programme. This Rota virus launch sets the goal in the field of Indian health system. By launching this, we aim to immunise 27 million children across the country to prevent diseases caused by Rota virus,” said Health Minister J.P. Nadda.

Rota is a highly contagious virus that infects majority of children before their first birthday. It is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea among children, leading to hospitalisation and death. Nadda said that the government was aggressively working for the eradication of a slew of other diseases, including leprosy and TB.

In the first phase, Rota virus vaccine will be introduced in four States – Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. It will be provided at government health facilities to children from six weeks of age. The vaccine has been launched in Odisha as the state records high diarrhoea cases among children and deaths due to improper treatment.

Bayer collaborates with BioNTech

Bayer, Germany, and BioNTech AG, Germany, have entered into an agreement to develop novel, first-in-class mRNA vaccines and therapeutics specifically for animal health applications. BioNTech will contribute its proprietary mRNA technology platform, formulation development capabilities, immunology expertise and intellectual property, while Bayer’s animal health unit will provide its development expertise and disease know-how. This is the first partnership of its kind making a substantial investment in mRNA therapeutics specifically for animal health applications.

Through the agreement, Bayer secures exclusive rights to use BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and intellectual property for development of mRNA vaccines for animal health applications, while BioNTech gains exclusive access to Bayer’s extensive expertise and knowledge in veterinary medicine. Newly created know-how from the collaboration beyond Animal Health applications, will benefit BioNTech’s extensive human health programme.

The agreement is backed by an investment by the Bayer Lifescience Center (BLSC), which operates as a novel strategic innovation unit in Bayer, directly reporting to Bayer’s Board of Management. The BLSC has the mission to uncover, encourage and unlock fundamental scientific and medical breakthroughs more rapidly by enabling innovative partnerships with entrepreneurial best-in-class biotechnology companies.

Medical device firms open to invest on R&D

According to Global Manufacturing Outlook survey conducted by KPMG, the Netherlands, medical device manufacturers are investing heavily in research and development (R&D), and are shifting their innovation strategies from incremental innovation towards achieving breakthrough innovation. Almost a quarter of all respondents say they spend more than 6 percent of revenues on R&D in the last two years. This level of investment and distinct drive for breakthrough innovation is in contrast to the other manufacturers polled in other sectors.

In fact, leading medical devices manufacturers are also collaborating with a much broader range of players than before. The report found 80 percent of respondents seeking “partnerships rather than in-house efforts” in the pursuit of innovations. “More than other manufacturing sectors, medical devices have a special stake in innovation. The nature of the business requires companies to elevate their performance to offer better life-enhancing and life-saving technologies,” said Mr. Tan Wah Yeow, at KPMG.

“It is imperative that medical device companies, especially smaller, low-cost manufacturers in Singapore develop breakthrough products through collaboration to stimulate growth and remain competitive in the industry. Compared to larger companies, these companies are more adaptable, better able to identify market niches and have more innovative potential,” said Mr. Ajay Kumar Sanganeria, at KPMG.

Australia, India to improve sugarcane varieties

Sugar Research Australia (SRA) has revealed a new research partnership with India to further research the development of new sugarcane varieties. The project has been awarded more than $600,000 through the Commonwealth Government’s Australia-India Strategic Research fund. “The project had a number of specific focuses. It is very much about developing markers for things like drought resistance, sugar content, cane yield and a disease called red-rot, which is common to both of the countries,” said Peter Allsop, at SRA.

“It is really taking some of our field results and mapping them back to the genetics within the sugarcane plant. We can use that bit of genetics to allow us to select material – those really good varieties – much earlier in our breeding program. It is hoped the research partnership with India will help shorten the breeding cycle from 12 years to possibly 10 years. It is the second-biggest producer of sugar in the world, so it is a massive industry [and] they have a lot of experience with different varieties to what we have,” added Allsop.

Dr Reddy’s ties up with TR-Pharm

Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd., India, has entered into a strategic collaboration agreement involving three biosimilar products with TR-Pharm, Turkey. The three biosimilar products will be registered and subsequently commercialized as part of this agreement by TR-Pharm in Turkey. However Dr. Reddy Labs has declined to name the biosimilars. TR-Pharm will also manufacture the drug substance and drug product upon completion of its facility investment. TR-Pharm has begun laying the groundwork for the technology transfer.

This collaboration will be an important component of TR-Pharm’s ongoing biological product development and manufacturing business in the region. The partnership will also enable Dr. Reddy’s to widen the global footprint of its biosimilar business. Dr. Reddy’s markets four biosimilars in India and some other emerging markets. The four biosimilars include white blood cell boosters filgrastim and peg-filgrastim, red blood cell booster darbepoetin and rituximab to treat rheumatoid arthritis and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a type of cancer).

The company has partnered with Merck Serono, Germany, to develop biosimilars for regulated markets. The clinical trials for two biosimilars targeted at US and European Union are underway and could take another 2-3 years to hit US and Europe. Meanwhile, the company is targeting emerging markets, which are kind of low-hanging fruits given their somewhat less rigid regulatory pathways for approval. “We are filing in quite a few important emerging markets and discussions with the regulatory authorities are in early stages,” said Abhijit Mukherjee, at Dr. Reddy’s.


Scientists create smallest ever viable genome

American scientists have created in a lab the smallest viable genome existing in nature with just enough essential genes for an organism to function and reproduce on its own, in a major step toward unlocking the mysteries of how life is created. The synthetic genome of this bacteria, dubbed JCVI-syn3.0, only carries 473 genes, compared to about 20,000 for a human being. “Investigators’ first task is to probe the roles of those genes, which promise new insights into the basic biology of life,” said Chris Voigt, a synthetic biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States.

But several potentially homologous genes have been found in other organisms, suggesting they encode universal proteins with functions that for now remain undetermined. Researchers used a design-build-test process to identify quasi-essential genes, which are required for robust growth but not for life. Through a series of experiments, they obtained a synthetic, reduced genome that was as small as possible because no more genes could be disrupted.

In one critical finding, researchers learned that some genes initially classified as “non-essential” in fact perform the same essential function as a second gene, meaning one of the pair of genes must remain in the minimal genome. The minimal genome does not have genes that can modify and restrict DNA and it also lacks most genes that encode lipoproteins. However, the genome contains nearly all genes involved in reading and expressing the genetic information in the genome, as well as in preserving genetic information across generations.

Carrot’s genetic secrets

Researchers from University of Wisconsin, the United States, have sequenced the genome of the carrot, an increasingly important root crop worldwide, identifying genes responsible for traits including the vegetable’s abundance of vitamin A, an important nutrient for vision. The genome may point to ways to improve carrots through breeding, including increasing their nutrients and making them more productive and more resistant to disease, pest and drought, the researchers said. The vitamin A in carrots arises from their orange pigments, known as carotenoids.

The study identified genes responsible for carotenoids as well as pest and disease resistance and other characteristics. In addition to eyesight, vitamin A also is important for immune function, cellular communication, healthy skin and other purposes. The researchers sequenced the genome of a bright orange variety of the vegetable called the Nantes carrot, named for the French city. The carrot genome contained about 32,000 genes, a typical total for plants, which average around 30,000 genes, which is more than the human genome.

Isolation of potato late blight resistance genes

A team of scientists from The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL), the United Kingdom, and The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), the United Kingdom, have developed a new method to accelerate isolation of plant disease resistance genes. The team has also identified a brand new source of blight resistance genes in Solanum americanum, a wild relative of the potato. Plant pathogens such as late blight can evolve rapidly to overcome resistance genes, so scientists are constantly on the hunt for new resistance genes.

Professor Jonathan Jones and colleagues from his lab at TSL pioneered the new technique, called “SMRT RenSeq,” and believe it will significantly reduce the time it takes to define new resistance genes. The team plan to stack several resistance genes together in one plant, to make it much harder for pathogens to evolve to overcome the plant’s defences. It is hoped the deployment of this new technique will improve commercial crops and will lead to higher yields, significantly reduced environmental impact and lower costs for the producer and eventually the consumer.

The TSL team investigated the wild potato relative, Solanum americanum, which carries several resistance genes, and by using the new technique, rapidly isolated a new resistance gene, Rpi-amr3. SMRT RenSeq makes the process of finding, defining and introducing genetic resistance far quicker and easier by combining two sequencing techniques: ‘RenSeq’ (Resistance gene ENrichment SEQuencing) and ‘SMRT’ ( Single-Molecule Real Time sequencing).

Technology to study genome structure in real time

Scientists at UMass Medical School, the United States, has developed ‘CRISPRainbow,’ a new technology using CRISPR/Cas9, which allows researchers to tag and track up to seven different genomic locations in live cells. This labeling system, will be an invaluable tool for studying the structure of the genome in real time. “Most people are using CRISPR for editing genomes. We are using it to label DNA and track the movement of DNA in live cells,” said Dr. Hanhui Ma, who coauthored the study with Dr. Thoru Pederson.

Knowing the precise location of genomic elements in live cells is critical to understanding chromosome dynamics because the genes that control our biology and health do so according to their location in 3-dimensional space, said Drs. Pederson and Ma. For a gene to be transcribed and expressed, it must be accessible on the chromosome. Where DNA is positioned in the crowded nucleus plays an important role in everything from embryonic development to cancer. Current technologies, however, are only capable of following, at most, three genomic locations at a time in live cells.

To overcome this technological hurdle, Pederson and Ma turned to CRISPR/Cas9. To tag specific locations along the genome using the CRISPR/Cas9 complex, they created a Cas9 mutation that makes the nuclease inactive so it only binds to the DNA and doesn’t cut the genome. In order to see and track the CRISPR/Cas9 complex once it is bound to the genome, Ma engineered the guide RNA to include one of three primary fluorescent proteins: red, green or blue. These proteins can then be observed and tracked in real time under a microscope.

New insights into gene regulation

A team of researchers led by the University of Leicester, the United Kingdom, has shed new light on how the regulation machinery that controls gene expression works by characterising a complex known as the NuRD complex. The study, led by John Schwabe, at the University of Leicester, focuses on three protein components which make up the core of the NuRD complex: MTA1, RBBP4 and HDAC1. The function of the NuRD complex is to control the amount of protein made by the cell – a process called gene regulation.

Unregulated protein expression disrupts the equilibrium within a healthy cell and can lead to abnormal cell division and tumour growth. The NuRD complex components HDAC1 and MTA1 have both been shown to be present in high levels in certain cancers. A clearer picture of how these proteins interact may help to develop strategies to reduce the activity of the complex and bring the cell back into equilibrium. The findings of the study has been published in the journal eLIFE.

By examining the relationship between the three proteins, the team was able to show the 3D structure of the NuRD complex as well as to characterise the molecular nature of the ‘extensive interface’ between MTA1 and RBBP4. The findings paint a clearer picture about how the complex is assembled and the way in which it interacts with the proteins that package the human genome in the cell. A deeper knowledge of how these complexes are recruited to genes will help to design treatments to combat aberrant gene activity.

Gene modification in mice and rats

A group of researchers led by Tomoji Mashimo, Associate Professor, Institute of Experimental Animal Sciences, Japan, Graduate School of Medicine, Japan, Osaka University, Japan, and Kazuto Yoshitomi, Assistant Professor, Mouse Genomics Resource Laboratory, Japan, National Institute of Genetics, Japan, Research Organization of Information and Systems, Japan, have developed two new gene modification methods: lsODN (long single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotide) and 2H2OP (two-hit two-oligo with plasmid). These methods use CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) -Cas systems and ssODN (single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotide).

CRISPR-Cas systems have made gene modification in mice and rats easy. By introducing Cas9 messenger RNA and gRNA, gRNA recognizes targeting DNA and Cas9 cuts the targeting site. DNA breaks are repaired by non-homologous end joining, which causes DNA mutations, resulting in gene knock-out. Likewise, when ssODN is introduced with Cas9-gRNA, DNA breaks are repaired through homology-directed repair using donor DNA, resulting in knock-in of DNA sequences with one to dozens of bases (bp). However, ssODN allowed the synthesis of oligos up to 200 bp, therefore, which made it difficult to knock in large DNA sequences such as GFP (green fluorescent protein).

With these two gene modification methods, this group succeeded in achieving efficient and precise knock-in of GFP genes, the introduction of large genomic regions (approx. 200kbp), which was conventionally impossible, as well as replacing rat genes with human-derived genes, or generating gene humanized animals. These two knock-in methods will increase the efficiency of genetic engineering in mice and rats, as well as other various species of organisms, and will become very useful techniques for producing new genetically engineered organisms. It is highly anticipated that these genetically engineered organisms will be used in a wide field of studies such as drug development, translational research, and regenerative medicine.


Proteomics method measures carbon uptake

A team of researchers led by microbiologists at Oregon State University (OSU), the United States, have done a successful trial of a new method of identifying the carbon uptake of specific marine bacterioplankton taxa. The technique uses proteomics – the large-scale study of proteins – to observe directly the metabolic processes of communities of microorganisms. “It shows how much is being used, by which microbes, and how they’re using it to produce new proteins. It provides information about which organisms are taking up different substrates,” said microbiologist Ryan Mueller, at OSU.

Marine bacterioplankton play a critical role in the carbon cycle. They recycle chemicals and decompose carbon-rich material like dissolved free amino acids (DFAA), which can result from many processes including lysing cells or phytoplankton bloom die-offs. Bacterioplankton process half of the organic carbon fixed by phytoplankton and other microbes through photosynthesis, but not all microbial communities have the same uptake rates. Linking particular taxa to metabolic responses has been an open question in the field for decades.

The researchers tested their new method, called proteomic stable isotopic probing, or proteomic-SIP, on eight seawater samples, including six collected from the ocean at Monterey Bay, California, and two from Oregon. To those samples they added DFAAs enriched with the isotope carbon-13. Using high-resolution mass spectrometry, they extracted and analyzed proteins from the samples – half of the samples after 15 hours, and the other half after 32 hours. They used software developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the United States, to analyze the proteomics data.

Protein identifies cancer cells

Researchers from Rockefeller University, the United States, and the University of Bergen (UiB), Norway, have discovered that the aggressive cancer cells that are spreading in colon, breast and skin cancer contained a much higher portion of the protein PITPNC1 than the non-aggressive cancer cells. In their study, the team describes how they isolated aggressive cancer cells from metastatic breast, melanoma and colon cancers and discovered they all had a gene that was much more highly expressed than in cells that did not spread. The gene codes for the protein PITPNC1.

“This means we can predict which of the cancer cells are getting aggressive and spread, at a much earlier stage than today,” said Dr. Nils Halberg, at UiB. He and his colleagues also found that the protein has a very specific function in the spread of cancer cells that use blood vessels to migrate to new sites in the body. To be able to leave the tumor, enter blood vessels and then attach to a new organ, the aggressive cells need to penetrate tissue. The team hopes the finding will help find treatments that reduce the risk of cancer spread – for instance, after surgery.

Mysteries of protein folding

A new research conducted at Michigan State University (MSU), the United States, and published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, has featured a chemistry approach that’s solving some of the riddles of the complex protein-building process of folding. When it goes right, strings of amino acids become well-ordered, three-dimensional proteins in a split second. When it goes awry, though, it’s the first step of many serious diseases.

When errors happen in folding, proteins clump together, form plaques such as those found in Parkinson’s disease and cystic fibrosis, and cause cells to degenerate. Understanding folding could lead to medicinal advances to treat these and other diseases at their earliest stage. “Our novel tool set can potentially be applied to analyze how disease mutations impact the structural and functional integrity of pathologically important membrane proteins,” said Heedeok Hong, at MSU chemist.

To tackle the membrane mysteries, the team developed a new method called “steric trapping”. First, scientists attached two small molecular tags to a protein in its folded form. Next, they added bulky objects that bind the tags. The large attachments, by their sheer size alone, unravel the protein to its unfolded state. This simple yet eloquent procedure can test the stability of membrane proteins, show what unfolded membrane proteins look like and reveal how individual amino acids that are building a protein work together to maintain its folded shape.

Key protein can reverse heart condition

A team of scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine (ISMMS), the United States, and Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST), Republic of Korea, has identified a key protein that has the potential to reverse established cardiac fibrosis, the abnormal thickening of the heart valves, which progresses to heart failure. Cardiac fibrosis occurs when healthy cardiac cells are replaced with fibrous connective tissue, causing scarring and a stiffer and less compliant cardiac muscle. The researchers found that CCN5, a matricellular protein, can potentially be used for the development of new anti-cardiac fibrosis therapies.

“Our research is the first to demonstrate the ability to reverse cardiac fibrosis in heart failure models by targeting a specific gene,” said Roger Hajjar, at ISMMS. The findings, demonstrated that CCN5 might provide a novel platform for the development of targeted anti-cardiac fibrosis therapies, which could benefit many patients with previously untreatable heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases. “Since CCN5 is a secreted protein, we may be able to deliver the CCN5 protein itself rather than the CCN5 gene in the form of recombinant virus or stem cells that are engineered to express CCN5,” said Woo Jin Park, at GIST.

Viral particles to trap intact mammalian protein

Scientists from VIB, Belgium, and Ghent University (UGent), Belgium, have developed ‘Virotrap’, a viral particle sorting approach for purifying protein complexes under native conditions. This method catches a bait protein together with its associated protein partners in virus-like particles that are budded from human cells. Like this, cell lysis is not needed and protein complexes are preserved during purification. The development and application of this pioneering technique has been described in Nature Communications.

With his feet in both a proteomics lab and an interactomics lab, VIB/UGent professor Sven Eyckerman is well aware of the shortcomings of conventional approaches to analyze protein complexes. The lysis conditions required in mass spectrometry–based strategies to break open cell membranes often affect protein-protein interactions. “The first step in a classical study on protein complexes essentially turns the highly organized cellular structure into a big messy soup”, explained Eyckerman.

Inspired by virus biology, Eyckerman came up with a creative solution. “We used the natural process of HIV particle formation to our benefit by hacking a completely safe form of the virus to abduct intact protein machines from the cell.” It is well known that the HIV virus captures a number of host proteins during its particle formation. By fusing a bait protein to the HIV-1 GAG protein, interaction partners become trapped within virus-like particles that bud from mammalian cells. Standard proteomic approaches are used next to reveal the content of these particles. Fittingly, the team named the method ‘Virotrap’.

Host protein to deal with DNA viruses

A team of molecular immunologists from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, the United States, and their colleagues at the University of North Carolina, the United States, has identified a human protein that interferes with the ability of the immune system to ward off infections caused by viruses such as HIV. Researchers focused their attention on NLRX1 (nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain, leucine rich repeat containing X1), an NLR protein that earlier had been identified in an unbiased siRNA (short interfering RNA) screen as being required for HIV infection.

The investigators found that depletion of NLRX1 impaired the ability of HIV to infect cells by blocking nuclear import of HIV-1 DNA into human monocytic cells. Although HIV is a single-stranded RNA virus, reverse transcriptase enzymes in immune cells rapidly convert the viral genetic package into DNA, increasing the level of DNA found in the cytosol. When NLRX1 was present, it was observed to reduce production of type-I interferon (IFN-I) and immune system stimulating cytokines in response to HIV-1 reverse-transcribed DNA.

In addition, NLRX1 sequestered the DNA-sensing adaptor STING (stimulator of interferon genes) and prevented it from interacting with the enzyme TANK-binding kinase 1 (TBK1), which is required for IFN-1 induction in response to DNA. Mice that had been genetically engineered to lack the gene for producing NLRX1 exhibited enhanced innate immunity and reduced viral load when infected with DNA viruses. Thus, NLRX1 acted as a negative regulator of the host innate immune response to HIV-1 and DNA viruses.


Structure of Zika virus cracked

Devika Sirohi, an Indian student at Purdue University, the United States, is the youngest member of a seven-member team of researchers that determined the structure of the Zika virus. The crucial breakthrough will help in the development of effective treatments for the deadly disease. “It took us four months to identify the structure of the virus. During the period of the research, we barely slept for two to three hours a day, but our hard work finally paid off. This discovery will help doctors and researchers to find a cure for the deadly disease that has been reported in 33 countries,” said Sirohi.

Artificial skin may help burn victims

Scientists from the RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology (CDB), Japan, Tokyo University of Science, Japan, and other Japanese institutions, have successfully grown complex 3D skin tissue from stem cells in the lab, complete with hair follicles and oil-secreting glands, an advance that may lead to functional skin transplants for burn patients. Scientists were then able to implant these 3D tissues into living mice. The tissues formed proper connections with other organ systems such as nerves and muscle fibres.

Epithelial cells have been earlier been successfully grown into implantable sheets, but they did not have the proper appendages – the oil-secreting and sweat glands – that would allow them to function as normal tissue. To perform the work, the researchers took cells from mouse gums and used chemicals to transform them into stem cell-like induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. In culture, the cells properly developed into what is called an embryoid body (EB) – a 3D clump of cells that partially resembles the developing embryo in an actual body.

The researchers created EBs from iPS cells and then implanted multiple EBs into immune-deficient mice, where they gradually changed into differentiated tissue, following the pattern of an actual embryo. Once the tissue had differentiated, the scientists transplanted them out of those mice and into the skin tissue of other mice, where the tissues developed normally as integumentary tissue – the tissue between the outer and inner skin that is responsible for much of the function of the skin in terms of hair shaft eruption and fat excretion.

Tools to combat antibiotic resistance

A team of researchers from University of Saskatchewan (U of S), Canada, has discovered a way to prevent bacteria from developing resistance to antibiotics, potentially helping to blunt the edge of a looming threat to public health around the world. “Bacteria have a remarkable ability to acquire resistance against antibiotics. We need new strategies to block development of resistance and to prolong the life of antibiotics, and we believe our work has revealed a promising direction,” said Ron Geyer, at U of S.

The U of S team looked at the “SOS response,” which happens when bacteria are attacked by antibiotics. The bacterial cell stops its normal cycle in order to repair its DNA. The process is quite error-prone, so there are a lot of mutations – plus the response allows the bacteria to pick up genes from other bacteria in a process called horizontal gene transfer. The team looked at the molecular “switching system” for the SOS response – the RecA enzyme that turns it on, and the LexA enzyme that keeps it turned off.

The team developed compounds that inhibit the RecA “on” switch. This prevented the SOS response, made the antibiotics more effective, reduced mutations, and blocked horizontal gene transfer. The team tested the RecA inhibitors both with a variety of lab bench assays and in mice against several bacteria, including two that are notorious for multi-drug resistance: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. The study has been published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology.

New technology to monitor cancer treatment

A team of Indian scientists from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States, and Harvard Medical School, the United States, have made an important breakthrough by developing a nano-technology which will help monitor the effectiveness of cancer therapy within hours of treatment. “We have developed a nano-technology, which first delivers an anticancer drug specifically to the tumour, and if the tumour starts dying or regressing, it then starts lighting up the tumour in real time,” said Shiladitya Sen Gupta, at MIT.

“This way you can monitor whether a chemotherapy is working or not in real time, and switch the patients to the right drug early on. One doesn’t need to wait for months while taking a toxic chemotherapy only to realise later and after side effects that the drug hasn’t worked,” said Gupta. The first author of the paper is Ashish Kulkarni, who comes from a small village in Maharashtra. A junior faculty at Harvard, Kulkarni trained as a Chemical Engineer at ICT Mumbai, then did a PhD in chemistry at the University of Cincinnati.

Kulkarni said by using this approach, the cells light up the moment a cancer drug starts working. The technology developed by the group can be used for monitoring the effectiveness of immunotherapy, a report said. Using a nanoparticle that delivers a drug and then fluoresces green when cancer cells begin dying, they were able to visualise whether a tumour is resistant or susceptible to a particular treatment much sooner than currently available clinical methods.

New device to diagnose bacterial infections

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the United States, has developed a new device which may shorten the time required to rapidly diagnose bacterial infections from days to hours. The system would allow point-of-care diagnosis, as it does not require the facilities and expertise available only in hospital laboratories. “Rapid and efficient diagnosis of the pathogen is a critical first step in choosing the appropriate antibiotic regimen, and this system could provide that information in a physician’s office in less than two hours,” said Ralph Weissleder, at MGH.

The system dubbed PAD for Polarisation Anisotropy Diagnostics, allows for accurate genetic testing in a simple device. Bacterial RNA is extracted from a sample in a small, disposable plastic cartridge, researchers said. Following polymerase chain reaction amplification of the RNA, the material is loaded into a two centimetre plastic cube containing optical components that detect target RNAs based on the response to a light signal of sequence-specific detection probes. These optical cubes are placed on an electronic base station that transmits data to a smartphone or computer where the results can be displayed.

Novel vaccine strategy against Chikungunya

Scientists from the Wistar Institute, the United States, have found a novel vaccine strategy that can provide both short term and long term protection against the Chikungunya virus when combined with a traditional DNA-based vaccine. Researchers found a vaccine strategy that boosts the immune system by rapidly producing antibodies against CHIKV. “Antigen-based vaccination strategies require a lag time that leaves patients susceptible to infection and disease,” said David B Weiner, at the Wistar Institute. Researchers developed a non-viral, vector-based monoclonal antibody delivery method that has advantages for rapid antibody generation.

In this study, when mice infected with CHIKV were given one intramuscular injection of the monoclonal antibody-producing CHIKV vaccine, antibodies against the virus were generated in vivo within 24 hours of administration. The injection neutralised isolated pockets of the virus and protected the mice from viral challenge. Since the virus usually manifests itself within 3-to-7 days of transmission, a rapid response is important for reducing the burden of the disease. When combined with a DNA-based vaccine for CHIKV, the researchers observed both rapid and long-lived protection against the virus.

Tuberculosis vaccine candidate found

A group of scientists from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has found a new candidate for tuberculosis (TB) vaccine, which could be more effective than the existing BCG vaccine, the first and only vaccine for the fatal disease. The efficiency of the BCG vaccine is not 100% which is why there has been a need for a better working vaccine. “Rv1860 (the newly found candidate) was found to stimulate CD8+ T cells, a subset that strongly correlates with the protective immunity in several human and primate studies,” said Vijaya Satchidanandam, at IISc.

The vaccine uses a dead or weakened pathogen, which is responsible for causing the disease, to stimulate the immune system. This way, a vaccine shot prepares the body to be ready with the defence mechanism by letting the immune system know the threat. But in the case of TB, a measured protective immune response has not been established yet. CD8+ T cells, a subset of T cells, are a type of white blood cells. Their role in TB protection has increasingly been recognized.

Rv1860 is a protein secreted by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is the deadly pathogen that causes tuberculosis – but not always. An infection of this kind of TB is not considered an active TB disease. In most cases, the bacterium just hangs around in the body in a dormant state and such people are said to have latent TB. The researchers called this group as Group I. The lifetime probability of Group I to get active TB disease is only 10%. They usually lead a normal, healthy life. People with a poor immune response who get infected and proceed to active TB earlier than others were identified as Group II.

New dengue fever vaccine

Scientists from the University of Vermont (UVM) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the United States, have successfully tested a vaccine against the mosquito-borne virus, which infects 400 million people, annually. If further mass human trials go as planned, a dengue fever vaccine could be available by the end of the decade. Last year, 48 healthy volunteers were randomly injected with a placebo, or the vaccine, known as TV003, by the researchers.

Six months later, 41 of the test subjects returned, to be infected with a genetically-modified version of the most aggressive strain of dengue, originally found in Tonga in 1974, which shows up in blood tests and produces a rash – like a real infection – but does not cause complications. The outcome was startling: all 21 people injected with TV003 were completely healthy, while the other 20 all presented with the dengue-2 strain in their bloodstream, with 16 developing the characteristic rash.

“The results of this work are very straightforward and quite conclusive. The bottom line is that the vaccine appears to be 100 percent efficacious,” said Beth Kirkpatrick, at UVM. A recently approved vaccine, Dengvaxia has that exact problems – suppressing immune response, and exacerbating symptoms, in children under 9. It also offers no better than 75 protection against any strain, and is particularly weak against dengue-2.

Scientists develop embryos in space

Scientists from Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have successfully developed early-stage mouse embryos in space for the first time on a retrievable microgravity satellite. “The SJ-10 research probe, launched on April 6, carried over 6,000 mouse embryos in a self-sufficient chamber the size of a microwave oven,” said Duan Enkui, at CAS. Among them, 600 embryos were put under a high-resolution camera, which took pictures every four hours for four days and sent them back to Earth.

The pictures showed that the embryos developed from the 2-cell stage, an early-on embryonic cleavage stage, to blastocyst, the stage where noticeable cell differentiation occurs, around 72 hours after SJ-10’s launch. The timing was largely in line with embryonic development on Earth. According to Duan, the rest of the embryos loaded on the satellite were injected with fixatives at 72 hours after the launch for studies on the effects of space environment on embryonic development.

Multipotent adult stem cells developed

Scientists took one step closer to mimicking the biology of animals such as salamanders, which can regenerate entire limbs, through the creation of an induced multipotent stem (iMS) cell. It is conceivable that this new development could be used to repair everything from spinal discs to bone fractures and has the potential to transform current treatment approaches to regenerative medicine. Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) demonstrated in mice that they could reprogram bone and fat cells into iMS cells. These findings were published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in an article entitled “PDGF-AB and 5-Azacytidine Induce Conversion of Somatic Cells into Tissue-Regenerative Multipotent Stem Cells.”

“This technique is a significant advance on many of the current unproven stem cell therapies, which have shown little or no objective evidence they contribute directly to new tissue formation,” explained senior study author John Pimanda, associate professor at UNSW. “We are currently assessing whether adult human fat cells reprogrammed into iMS cells can safely repair damaged tissue in mice, with human trials expected to begin in late 2017.”

The UNSW investigators developed the technique by extracting adult human fat cells and treating them with the compound 5-azacytidine (AZA), along with platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB) for approximately 2 days. The cells are then treated with the growth factor alone for a further 2–3 weeks. AZA has been shown previously to induce cell plasticity—a crucial step in reprogramming cells. The AZA compound relaxes the hard wiring of the cell, which is expanded by the growth factor, transforming the bone and fat cells into iMS cells. When the stem cells are inserted into the damaged tissue site, they multiply, promoting growth and healing. This method represents an advance on other stem cell therapies being investigated, which have a number of deficiencies.

Along with confirming that human adult fat cells reprogrammed into iMS stem cells can safely repair damaged tissue in mice, the researchers stated that further work is required to establish whether iMS cells remain dormant at the sites of transplantation and retain their capacity to proliferate on demand. Ralph Mobbs, M.D., neurosurgeon and conjoint lecturer with UNSW’s Prince of Wales Clinical School and co-author on the current study added that, “the therapy has enormous potential for treating back and neck pain, spinal disc injury, joint and muscle degeneration and could also speed up recovery following complex surgeries where bones and joints need to integrate with the body.”


Ceres sugarcane traits field testing in Brazil

Agricultural biotechnology company, Ceres Inc., the United States, has announced that the company has received approval to initiate field testing of its biotech sugarcane in Brazil, the world’s largest producer of sugarcane. The company plans to test its biomass and sugar yield and stress tolerance traits in several commercial sugarcane cultivars adapted to Brazil’s major production areas. The field evaluations, which were approved by Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, are expected to begin in the next six weeks. Field evaluations represent a critical stage in the development of biotech crop traits, as they provide greater insight into how traits may perform in future products in an agricultural setting.

“We believe we have a significant opportunity to bring innovative technology to the sugarcane market, with immediate opportunities to increase sugar yields and preserve the yields in the kind of drought conditions that have been prevailing in Brazil in recent years,” said Richard Hamilton, at Ceres. He noted that a sugarcane variety with Ceres traits could significantly change production dynamics and economics by increasing sugar and biomass yields while providing additional harvests during the typical five-year lifecycle of a sugarcane stand.

In similar field evaluations performed last year outside of Brazil, Ceres’ yield traits increased biomass yields in elite tropical sugarcane varieties. Plants with one of the company’s drought tolerance traits resisted the effects of drought and maintained biomass yields with as little as half the water normally required during production. These results were especially impactful because the tests were completed in elite varieties that are already known for their high yields and performance. Favorable results from a research setting are not a guarantee of future commercial performance, and further evaluations will be necessary.

Proteins give plants memory

Prions are proteins that are usually referred to in relation to the spread of neuro diseases. But according to a study authored by an Indian scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States, suggests prion-like proteins could hold the key to understanding what gives plants memory and aids in their decision-making. Sohini Chakrabortee, a researcher at MIT conducted studies that identified three proteins that played a role in the flowering of a plant of the Arabidopsis family.

Among these three proteins, one shared a number of characteristics with prions. This finding expands the scope of understanding on the biological functions that prions could play. Prions have so far been identified primarily for their role in the spread of some neurodegenerative diseases. The role of the prion-like protein – Luminidependence – is being studied as plants decide each spring whether to bloom or not. This decision-making is dependent on complex factors such as nutrient levels, hydration, temperature, and vernalization – the memory of having experienced winter.

Novel Indian biotech solution

Agricultural waste is becoming a mammoth problem for India, not knowing what to do with the stubble many Indian farmers especially in granary of the country simply burn it after harvest. Now scientists at Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), India, supported by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under Indian Ministry of Science & Technology, have come up with a nifty solution that using a bio-refinery converts this waste into value added alcohol, which, can then be used as clean biofuel or blended to make spirits. NASA has recorded this burning of biomass from its satellites and according to them the black carbon released by this crop waste burning is leading to the wasting of Himalayan glaciers.

The technology for this plant made by ICT, costs Rs 40 crore and thereafter the demonstration plant has been made at a cost of Rs 35 crore with support from the DBT. Making alcohol from biological material is not new, but till date most of the ethanol is made using sugar cane, corn or some such food material and is called first generation ethanol. “This is the most suited technology for India since to make the biofuel the feedstock does not compete with food,” said K VijayRaghavan, at DBT. According to the DBT, “while diesel biofuel blending is near zero, the petrol blending today stands at an overall of about 3 per cent in the form of first generation or molasses based 1G-Ethanol.”

New paths for plant-based bioproducts

Plant science researchers at the University of North Texas (UNT), the United States, have found potential new pathways for the creation of plant-based bioproducts. The UNT research team was working as part of the US Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center coordinated by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The team looked into the roles of enzymes that convert amino acids into lignin in Brachypodium, a fast-growing model grass with a sequenced genome. The research has been published in the journal Nature Plants.

Lignin is a substance that makes plants woody and firm, and, although it is an impediment to the processing of feedstocks for biofuels, it can be used to create a variety of bioproducts, including materials such as carbon fiber. “As we studied the way different amino acids are converted to lignin, we found that there may be a new and unrecognized pathway for making lignin in grasses. This provides new opportunities for the synthesis of high value, high volume bioproducts that could significantly improve the economics of the bioenergy industry,” said Professor Richard Dixon, at UNT.

Testing of indigenous Bt cotton varieties

India’s Agriculture research organization Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has initiated testing of 20 indigenously developed Bt cotton varieties to assess their suitability in domestic agro-climatic zones. “Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has initiated testing of 20 indigenously developed Bt cotton varieties during Kharif 2016 to identify suitability of the varieties in different agro-climatic zones and these lines will be further promoted through front line demonstrations,” said Minister of State for Agriculture Sanjeev Balyan.

Balyan added that Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, and National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow, are also involved in trying to develop genetically modified cotton seeds in the country. A panel set up by the Agriculture Ministry had recommended a trait value of Rs 49 per 450 gram packet of BG-II Bt cotton seeds as against last year’s trait value of Rs 174.40 for northern India and Rs 163.28 for the rest of the country.

GM sugarcane option to ease water woes

India’s premier research institution Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has joined hands with the Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI), India, to develop drought tolerant genetically modified (GM) sugarcane that will need less water for cultivation. The water guzzling sugarcane crop is blamed for worsening the acute water shortage in parched areas of Maharastra. The move is significant, considering the government’s present stand of treading the path of genetically engineered crop. “It will, however, be a long-term project. Developing drought tolerant GM sugarcane is not an end in itself. We know how difficult it is in India to go for commercial release of any transgenic crop”, said an ICAR scientist.

Citing recent example of GM mustard, sources claimed that even positive reports based on field trial and bio-safety examinations of the crop could not get this transgenic variety – a green signal. But the effects of back to back droughts, mounting rural distress and the sheer economic and ecological costs of water intense crops might make planners more keen to develop GM sugarcane. Authorities hope that once the benefits of the new crop become evident, its acceptance will grow. So far, GM brinjal has not been allowed commercial release even after getting the regulator’s nod in India whereas the similar transgenic variety is being cultivated by neighbouring Bangladesh.

GM sugarcane in water stressed areas can offer hope for the future in Maharashtra and other parts of India. Already, the extreme water shortages have turned the focus on how to use water judiciously, with PM Narendra Modi calling for all out efforts to implement drip irrigation on a massive scale through support to farmers by way of subsidy and other incentives. Referring to the urgency, the GM route could be a long-term approach, keeping in mind the global demand scenario and India’s role in it, whereas the drip irrigation was need of the hour. The research body, nevertheless, appears to be preparing for the future. Former union agriculture minister Pawar is chairman of the board of trustees that manages VSI.


Probiotics and Prebiotics: Current Research and Future Trends

This book provides an authoritative and timely overview of the field. Written by leading international researchers, each chapter affords a critical insight to a particular topic, reviews current research, discusses future direction and aims to stimulate discussion. Topics range from the different microorganisms used as probiotics (lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, yeast, etc) and techniques and approaches used (metagenomics, etc) to the reviews of the clinical and medical aspects.
Contact: Book Systems Plus, 4 Hollands Road, Haverhill, CB9 8PP, UK.

Fundamentals of Food Biotechnology

The book is based on the developments in biotechnology related to food production and processing, including new applications involving food ingredient processing, plant tissue cultures and genetic engineering. The initial chapters provide tutorials reviewing the principles of biochemistry, microbiology and biochemistry engineering to provide the fundamental knowledge required to comprehend biotechnology.

Contact: Wiley India Pvt. Ltd., 4435-36/7, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi -110002, India. Tel: +91-11-4363-0000; Fax: +91-11-2327-5895

Plant Tissue Culture: Theory and Techniques

This book has been designed to benefit the students, the research scholars and the scientists for developing a level of self-confidence to conduct the experiments independently and can acquire the practical skills along with the basic know-how about the techniques being used. Each chapter is devoted to a separate aspect of plant tissue culture and the chapters are arranged in the order of increasing technical complexity.

Physiological Genetics of Agricultural Crops

For many decades plant breeding has made use of morphological analyses in producing new varieties. One of the features missing in morphological analyses is that the development of the components of the yield are not revealed. This book will be a valuable guide to plant growers, biologists and agronomists for a better understanding of plant development and for increasing productivity.

For the above two books, contact: Scientific Publishers, 5 A, New Pali Road, P O Box 91, Jodhpur (Raj.) - 342 001, India. Tel: +91-291-2433-323; E-mail:


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