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VATIS Update Biotechnology . Jul-Aug 2003

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Biotechnology Jul-Aug 2003

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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Contents

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IN THE NEWS

India to set up training centre for developing world scientists

The Centre for Science for Developing Societies (CSDS), funded by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) and the Ministry of Science and Technology, will be established in Chennai, India, to train scientists from other developing nations. CSDS will utilize facilities occupied until recently by the Committee on Science and Technology for Developing Countries (COSTED) of the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU). ICSU decided to wind up COSTED in November 2002 on the recommendations of a review panel, which suggested that in order to strengthen its presence in the developing world the council should replace COSTED with four regional offices one each in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean.


CSDS will initially admit 20 doctoral students and 10 post-doctoral fellows who, after a period of orientation, will work with INSA fellows at leading universities and research institutions in India. The programme includes specialized training normally not available in the university system. CSDS will start functioning from April 2004 and use a careful selection procedure to allow talented individuals from developing nations to study in India, regardless of their social background. INSA has also offered to host ICSUs regional office for Asia. 


Website: www.SciDevNet.com 

Crop research centre to relocate

A five-member external review panel, led by Mr. Paul Vlek of the German Centre for Development Research, has recommended that the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), currently located near Hyderabad in India, should transfer its headquarters to Africa to help focus its research on the problems of that continent. The panel was set up by the United States-based Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the body that runs ICRISAT and 15 other agricultural research centres around the world. ICRISAT, which already has three regional stations in Africa, was established over 30 years ago to focus research on crops such as millet, groundnut, chickpea and sorghum, which are important in arid regions of Africa and India.


In its report, the panel stated that ICRISAT must find ways to repeat the same successes in Africa that it has achieved in Asia. Also, ICRISAT should rapidly restructure its programmes and transfer its headquarters and virtually all of its programmes to sub-Saharan Africa. The panel recommended that ICRISAT should limit its role in Asia to strategic plant genetic resources and enhancement, for the so-called mandate crops, and give up other roles such as water and soil management and enhancing livestock productivity to national agencies, and re-deploy the resources used to meet these commitments in Africa. 


Website: www.SciDevNet.com 

Indo-American biotech pact

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), India, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have entered into an agreement to set up a formal framework for research collaboration in agricultural biotechnology focusing on soil salinity, drought and nutritional improvement traits that are controlled by several genes, making genetic improvement through conventional breeding difficult. DBT and USAID will provide an umbrella for consortium-based partnerships engaged in areas such as policy planning, R&D and capacity building. Under the agreement, India will remain free to follow, change or amend its guidelines on biosafety and intellectual property rights, in line with national legislation. The two countries also agreed to promote public-private partnerships for setting up common research facilities, undertake detailed studies in functional genomics and identify research projects. Details of time schedules, funding and collaborators are yet to be announced. 


Website: www.SciDevNet.com 

Worlds first cloned horse

Scientists led by Dr. Cesare Galli, Director of the Laboratory of Reproductive Technology, Italy, have announced the birth of the worlds first cloned horse, a female foal named Prometea who was born to her genetically identical surrogate mother on 28 May. Prometea was created by fusing the nuclei of skin cells from a male Arabian thoroughbred and a Haflinger mare with eggs taken from slaughtered abattoir horses and emptied of their own DNA. The resulting embryo was returned to the mothers womb after being cultured in the lab. Of the 841 successfully reconstructed male and female embryos, just eight male and 14 female embryos developed to the earliest blastocyst stage after seven days of culture. Out of the 17 embryos inserted into mares, only four led to pregnancies. Prometea, born after 336 days, was the only one to survive. According to Dr. Galli, an immediate use of the cloning technique could be breeding from geldings castrated male horses. 


Website: www.NewScientist.com 

Fast-acting Ebola vaccine

In the United States, scientists at the Vaccine Research Centre of the National Institutes of Health have created a new, fast-acting vaccine that may help contain outbreaks of the deadly Ebola disease. A single shot of the experimental vaccine protected monkeys from the virus within a month, much faster that the earlier six-month, multi-injection regime. Ebola remains a serious threat to people. At present, public health officials have few options beyond quarantine and limiting contact with tainted bodily fluids.


Since Ebola is very deadly, creating a conventional vaccine of inactivated whole virus or a weakened strain is thought to be far too dangerous. Therefore, scientists originally tried a two-pronged method. Animals were first injected with DNA coding for three Ebola viral proteins, to stimulate a killer T-cell response. To stimulate antibody production, the specimens were injected with cold virus modified to carry the proteins. However, it was found that this modified adenovirus alone stimulated rapid antibody production and even elicited a T-cell response, although at a lower level than the DNA vaccine.


Surprisingly, a single shot of the adenovirus proved to be adequate: after 28 days, eight monkeys survived doses of the virus that killed two unprotected animals. One possible hurdle facing a human vaccine is that some people already have an immune response to some strains of adenoviruses, which would reduce the bodys response to the vaccine strain. This implies that it may be necessary to develop several different vaccine strains to ensure that one provoked sufficient reply.


Website: www.NewScientist.com

MARKET NEWS

Wockhardt launches cheaper human recombinant insulin

Wockhardt, an Indian pharmaceutical major, has launched its indigenously produced recombinant human insulin, which is substantially cheaper than the imported varieties. The insulin, branded as Wosulin, will be available at US$3 per vial. Currently, multinationals such as Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk have priced insulin at US$3-US$5.5. Human insulin costs around US$11-US$15 per vial in the United States and the United Kingdom. The host cell for Wockhardts insulin is yeast while others use E. coli. Wockhardt is manufacturing the recombinant insulin at its biotechnology park in Aurangabad. The company has locked its sights not only on the domestic market but also on the US$3 billion global market and is preparing for registrations in several countries. 


The Hindu Business Line, 5 August 2003

Bharat Biotech to manufacture streptokinase

Bharat Biotech International Limited, India, has obtained permission to manufacture its indigenously developed recombinant Streptokinase from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. GEAC has also approved import and marketing of:
  • Recombinant hepatitis B vaccine from Israels Biotechnology General Ltd., by Mumbai-based Shreya Life Science Ltd.
  • Recombinant human granulocyte colony stimulating factor (rh-G-CSF) from Shanghai Sunway Biotech Co. Ltd., China, by Emcure Biotech Ltd., Pune; and
  • Teriparatide injection Forteo, the only bone forming drug for treating osteoporosis, from Lilly France SAS by Eli Lilly and Co. (India) Pvt. Ltd.

Chronicle Pharmabiz, 19 June 2003

SOS filed with WTO

A case against the European Union (EU) has been filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the United States, Argentina, Canada and Egypt over EUs decision to apply a five-year moratorium on the approval of new genetically modified (GM) crops and GM foods. Australia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay have expressed support although they lack a direct commercial interest.


Using provisions in the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the complaining parties asserted that EU has failed in applying a scientific, rules-based review and approval process for agricultural biotech product applications. While the Agreement recognizes that countries are entitled to regulate crops and food products to protect health and environment, Article 2 requires that members have sufficient scientific evidence for such regulations. Moreover, Annex C instructs that procedures to check and ensure compliance with sanitary or phytosanitary measures must be undertaken and completed without undue delay. According to the complaining parties, a five-year moratorium is undue delay.


CropLife America, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and the United States Grains Council welcomed the decision to file the case. According to NCGA, the moratorium has cost corn exporters US$300 million a year. Under WTO rules, both sides had 60 days to settle the case. However, negotiations between American and European officials broke down and the complaining parties requested the WTO Dispute Settlement Body to form a three-member panel to resolve the issue. Within several months, both sides would present their arguments before the panel. The losing party can file an appeal with regard to the panels decision with the WTO Appellate Body, which would provide its report within three months. There would be no further appeal. Nations are often given 6-15 months to comply with WTOs final ruling. 


ISB News Report, August 2003

AstraZeneca opens US$10 million research facility in India

A US$10 million research facility has been inaugurated near Bangalore, Karnataka, by the Indian arm of AstraZeneca Plc., Europes second largest pharmaceuticals group. The pharma giant will be investing around US$40 million, including the capital cost of around US$10 million in its Indian facility. It expects to reach the first milestone in developing an anti-tuberculosis drug by 2006 and a fully developed drug by 2010. At present, the company has 67 scientists working on developing the drug and based on the progress it makes more scientists will be recruited. According to Sir Tom McKillop, Chief Executive, AstraZeneca Plc., the decision to develop the drug in India was influenced by the huge scientific talent available in the country. 


Chemical Weekly, 17 June 2003

FDA approves new biotech asthma drug

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first biotechnology treatment for asthma. Xolair, a drug administered by injecting it into the body once or twice a month, was developed by Genentech Inc., Novartis AG and Tanox Inc., and is aimed at treating moderate to severe asthma triggered by allergies. Xolair works by disabling a naturally occurring antibody called IgE, which triggers the release of chemicals that cause inflammation, rather than the symptoms that inhaled corticosteroids address. At a wholesale price of US$433 a vial, Xolairs annual cost per patient will work out around US$10,000-US$12,000 per year. 


Chronicle Pharmabiz, 3 July 2003

Biotech sector in for a boom

Beyond Borders, a report prepared by Ernst and Young, foresees that the Indian biotech industry is poised for profitability and good opportunities for Indian companies to strike alliances with global companies. The report indicated that the industry might achieve profitability by 2010 if regulatory issues could be dealt with effectively over the next few years. However, biotechnology companies worldwide are struggling with a prolonged capital market depression that caused industry stock prices to plummet and created severe cash shortages for many companies. Overall, global biotech revenue increased 15 per cent, to more than US$41 billion, and R&D expenses jumped 34 per cent to more than US$22 billion in the past year, with over 50 per cent of revenues being reinvested in R&D.


This latest report provides strong evidence that more biotech companies were on the verge of profitability than ever before. Over 50 companies, or about 15 per cent of publicly traded companies based in the United States, posted profits in at least one year during the past three years. During the same period, more than 20 companies recorded sustained profitability over all three years. According to Mr. Utkarsh Palnitkar, Head, Health Sciences Industry Practice, Ernst and Young India, India has a unique advantage, being blessed with a populace of a scientific temperament and a wide existing network of centres of excellence in biotech-related research. Contract research, which was one of the biggest opportunity area for the country, would boom as a greater pie of globally outsourced R&D would be diverted to the country. However, lack of angel funding or seed capital, the primary need for biotech start-ups, continued to be the biggest bottleneck. Investments in the biotech sector would increase further with the amended Indian Patent Act complying with the post-2005 WTO requirements. 


The Hindu Business Line, 1 August 2003

Low-cost TB detection kits

In India, a team of scientists at the Central Scientific Instruments Organization (CSIO) are designing Bio-MeMs based micro-diagnostic kits to detect tuberculosis (TB). These kits will reduce the time needed to identify the disease in a patient to a few hours from over a week. Anticipated to be available at around US$0.50 each, the kits will be ready for trials by June 2004. The microelectronic mechanical systems (MEMS) of 0.5 m would be developed at the Semiconductor Laboratories (SCL) in Chandigarh, while the antibodies and antigens will be produced at CSIO. The micro-kit will have antibodies and reagents, and a few drops of blood would help identify if a patient is infected with TB. It is estimated that the requirement for such kits which could be extended for diagnosing HIV, malaria and hepatitis B diseases would be in millions. 


Chemical Weekly, 3 June 2003

Avesthagen forms alliance with French giant

Avesthagen and bioMerieux, the French diagnostic giant, have inked an agreement to develop within two years a diagnostic kit based on the Affymetrix gene chip technology for detecting tuberculosis. The multi-million deal was signed in Lyon, France, by Dr. Villoo Morawala Patell, CEO and founder of Avesthagen, Dr. Christophe Merieux, CSO of bioMerieux, and Dr. Pascal Vincelot, Managing Director of bioMerieux India. Avesthagen has other projects in the pipeline and is gearing itself for the total convergence of diagnostics, food and pharmaceutical sectors with pointers at population genetics and personalized medicine. 


Chronicle Pharmabiz, 24 July 2003

Roche launches rapid SARS diagnostic test

A diagnostic test for detecting the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus has been launched by Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical group. Roche reports that the blood test yields results within an hour. The test based on Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology was developed in cooperation with several laboratories and government agencies, including the Genome Institute in Singapore.


PCR is already being used in swift diagnostic tests for SARS, according to the World Health Organization. The existing PCR assays were used for diagnosis with the first onset of symptoms and appeared reliable in positive identification. However, they also showed many false negatives during the outbreak of the new disease earlier this year, which affected 8,437 people, mainly Asians. Over 800 people lost their lives to the previously unknown pneumonia-like disease between November 2002 and July 2003, which is believed to have started in the Guangdong province in southern China. The other type of antibody-based test tends to be more reliable but is only effective about 20 days after infection. Roches new diagnostic test will be an essential research tool of epidemiology of SARS. 


Chronicle Pharmabiz, 24 June 2003

GEAC allows large-scale trials of Bt cotton by Rasi Seeds

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), attached to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests of India, has allowed Rasi Seeds Ltd. to carry out large-scale trials of RCH 2 Bt cotton in the southern and central parts of the country for further evaluation of the companys hybrid cotton seed. The company has, however, been refrained from commercializing the seeds. According to GEAC, earlier trials conducted by Rasi Seeds and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) were not conclusive and therefore commercialization could not be permitted at this stage. As the new hybrids developed by Rasi required further evaluation, the Committee gave its consent for large-scale trials in the central and southern zones. RCH 2 Bt is a direct derivative of the already released RCH 2 non-Bt hybrid that had been released through the All India Coordinated Cotton Improvement Project in 1999 for national cultivation. GEAC noted that previous trials of RCH 2 hybrid gave consistently higher cotton yields and allowed seed production of RCH 2 Bt hybrid in an area of 100,000 ha. 


Chemical Weekly, 24 June 2003

VaxGen unveils plant to produce anthrax vaccine

A state-of-the-art facility for producing vaccines, therapeutic proteins and other biopharmaceutical medicines has been opened in San Francisco, the United States, by VaxGen, an Australia-based company. The development of the new US$11 million, 17,000 ft2 facility is part of VaxGens broader manufacturing strategy to make its own products as well as those of other companies.


VaxGen has commenced the first test run of its anthrax vaccine in the new facility. The company won a government contract in October 2002 to produce a new and improved anthrax vaccine aimed at potential terrorist attacks on the United States. In May 2003, VaxGen received the Food and Drug Administrations approval to move ahead with its candidate anthrax vaccine and this would also be made in the new facility, producing up to 100 million doses per year. So far only one anthrax vaccine has been licensed to the federal government and it takes six injections over 18 months.


The plant will also be used to train personnel in the companys joint venture tech-transfer agreement between VaxGen and three partners based in the Republic of Korea. This joint venture, called Celltrion, is building a larger biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility in the Republic of Korea, which would provide large-scale manufacturing that serves the United States, Asia and Europe. VaxGen also acquired from a Japanese company the rights to a safer smallpox vaccine, which would be manufactured in Japan. 


Express Pharma Pulse, 17 July 2003

INVENTIONS/NEW PRODUCTS

Kits to test for Bt toxin

Scientists at the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), have designed kits to test the expression of Bt gene in genetically modified (GM) cotton plants, as such aiding quality assurance. So far, three kits have been developed to assist farmers in quality assurance and large-scale screening of plants to assess the expression of Bt genes.


The test kit Cry 1 Ac Bt-Quant is based on ELISA technology and facilitates a precise quantification of Cry 1 Ab or Cry 1 Ac toxins in transgenic plants. The kit is simple, cost-effective, reliable and takes about four hours for testing. Moreover, each ELISA plate can be used for 96 samples. The Cry 1 Ac Bt-detect kit is based on dot-blot assay, which can be used by people with minimum technical capabilities to test Bt toxin in seeds or plant tissue and requires about 2-3 hours for completion of one set of assay. The third kit, Cry 1 Ac Bt express can be used even by unskilled people. This test needs about 10 minutes and can be carried out in the field. 


Chemical Weekly, 22 July 2003

Single-molecule nanoscale sensor

A team of scientists led by Dr. Giovanni Zocchi at the University of California, the United States, has created a first-of-its-kind nanoscale sensor using a single molecule less than 20 nm long and over 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. The nano-molecular sensor could help with early diagnosis of genetic diseases and have other applications for medicine, biotechnology and related fields. According to Dr. Zocchi, this nanoscale single-molecule method could lead to significant improvements in the diagnosis of genetic diseases, including the growing number of cancer forms for which genetic markers are known. The largest potential application for this sensor may be in the drug discovery process, where the possibility of quickly gauging the gene expression response of cells to prospective drugs is crucial.


The nanoscale sensor uses a single molecule to detect the presence of a specific short sequence in a mixture of DNA or RNA molecules whereas traditional assays use an averaged procedure that detects a minimum amount of molecules. However, the nanoscale sensor can detect a single molecule. This single-molecule detector could be an important component of a lab-on-a-chip technology for performing chemical analysis on a chip. Scientists plan to use the nanoscale sensor for experimental leukaemia research, to test whether the sensors high sensitivity can identify recurrence of cancer at an earlier stage than presently feasible. 


Chemical Weekly, 15 July 2003

Gene chip heralds tailored medicine

In Switzerland, Roche Holding AG has launched the worlds first gene chip to test an individuals response to drugs. Todays medicines are a hit-and-miss affair, with different people reacting differently to the same treatments, leading to adverse side effects or no effect at all in some cases. The new product, Amplichip CYP450 test, identifies small variations in two genes affecting drug response. Known as CYP2D6 and CYP2C19, these genes play a key role in determining how individuals metabolize commonly prescribed drugs, including treatments for depression, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and hyperactivity.


The assay was developed with technology licensed from the United States-based Affymetrix Inc. and is the first of six gene chips that Roche plans to launch by the end of 2004. A gene chip, or microarray, is a thumbnail-sized glass plate containing fragments of DNA that can be used to screen tens of thousands of individual DNA pieces for certain genes. The new test, which is being launched first in the United States, with Europe set to follow at the end of 2003, marks the latest advance in the small but growing field of personalized medicine, or pharmacogenomics. Some 10 per cent of Caucasians and 20 per cent of Asian populations are poor metabolizers of drugs, while a smaller portion of people are ultra-fast. Both groups are at risk if given standard doses poor metabolizers retain medicines longer and may suffer from adverse reactions while the ultra-fast group may not receive enough of the drug. (Business Standard, 26 June 2003)

Non-invasive glucose sensor

At the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States, researchers have developed a non-invasive method to measure the glucose level in bodily fluid a thin plastic sensor that changes colour based on the concentrations of glucose. The current method of testing glucose in diabetes patients is by drawing blood from a finger prick and is dependent on patient skill and compliance for regular testing. The researchers plan to embed the sensing material into contact lenses worn in the patients eyes. Patients will determine their glucose levels by looking into a compact mirror that has a colour chart to indicate glucose concentrations and then comparing the colour of the sensing material with the chart. Red indicates very low glucose concentrations, violet indicates very high glucose concentrations and green shows normal glucose level. The researchers are still determining the number of detectable gradations, but expect that it may be as high as those in finger stick meters. It is expected that the technology would be able to be incorporated into commercially available contact lenses that could be replaced weekly. 


Website: www.Bio.com

GENOMICS

Plcg1 gene essential for artery formation

Development cues that specify the development of endothelial cells into either arteries or veins have been discovered by researchers at the National Institute of Health, the United States. A group of scientists led by Dr. Nathan Lawson uncovered that the phospholipase C gamma-1 protein, or Plcg1, is essential for the formation of arteries in the embryos of zebra fish (an established vertebrate model organism). Dr. Lawson et al. conducted their studies with zebra fish that were genetically engineered to have fluorescent blood vessels. This finding provides the first in vivo evidence of a role for Plcg1 in arterial development.


It has been known that during embryogenesis, endothelial cells give rise to the lymphatic and vascular systems. Extensive research into the genetic basis of vascular development has revealed a crucial and evolutionarily conserved role for the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) signalling pathway in determining endothelial cells fate. However, the genes that dictate the development of venous or arterial cells remain largely unknown. Also, it was not known what signals determined artery and venous identity, or even whether this process was governed by genetic signals. It was always thought that circulatory flow and pressure caused a blood vessel to be a vein or an artery. The new study, along with studies in mouse, demonstrates that the identification step is crucial for normal blood vessel formation. It reveals that Plcg1 functions downstream of Vegf in vivo to coax endothelial cells into adopting an artery fate. 


Express Pharma Pulse, 12 June 2003

Y chromosome sequenced

An international consortium of scientists, led by Dr. David Page at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, has completed sequencing the Y chromosome. It was found that instead of doubling up to protect its genetic cargo like other chromosomes, the lone Y safeguards its genes by swapping them. Reports of the demise of the Y chromosome and an impending extinction of men may have been exaggerated. The male-defining chromosome was also previously thought of as a wasteland where genes go to die.


Human chromosome pairs swap genes in order to minimize bad mutations. The Y chromosome, which has no partner, faces being whittled away by mutation. Some estimate that the chromosome could be complete junk in about ten million years. The mapped sequence has shown that the chromosome safeguards its genes with palindromes. Roughly six million of its 50 million DNA letters reside in sequences that read the same, in opposite directions, on both strands of the double helix. The longest is nearly three million letters long. These palindromes house many genes, meaning that there is a copy at each end of the palindromic sequence to provide back-ups should harmful mutations arise. The mirror-image structure allows the arms to swap positions when DNA divides. Genes are shuffled and bad copies removed.


Dr. Pages team has calculated the amount of swapping needed in each generation to produce the near-perfect palindromes of the human Y chromosome. Other researchers view swapping as an evolutionary accident, not a safeguard, since good genes are just as liable to be lost as bad. This is a major cause of male infertility, as most of the genes within the palindromes control testes development. One in every few thousand men is infertile as key genes have been deleted. 


Website: www.nature.com 

Gene mutations responsible for congenital heart defects 

A gene critical to the development of the human heart has been discovered by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre at Dallas, the United States. Mutations in the gene lead to congenital heart defect, which is one of the leading non-infectious cause of death in newborns. The GATA4 gene is only the second gene to have been identified as a cause of isolated congenital heart disease not associated with medically identified syndromes. The team identified mutations in GATA4 gene as a cause of human cardiac septal defects, which occur when the walls separating the hearts four chambers do not form properly.


According to Dr. Deepak Srivastava, Associate Professor of pdiatrics and molecular biology and the studys senior author, this discovery could one day help doctors prevent congenital heart defects, the most common developmental anomaly, by fixing the problem before a baby is born. In the study, researchers examined two large families one in Dallas that spanned five generations and included 16 members with congenital heart defects, while the second family resided in Tokyo spanning four generations with eight members suffering from congenital heart defects. The team also conducted physical examinations, electrocardiograms and cardiac ultrasounds. Genomic DNA from white blood cells was used for analysis, and medical records of family members who had expired were studied and a genetic linkage analysis performed. GATA4 mutations showed up in all family members with the heart disease but not in those without heart disease or in 3,000 unrelated individuals who were also studied. It is thought that the gene may be responsible for the defects through its interaction with TBX5, a protein which causes a subset of syndromic cardiac septal defects.


Express Pharma Pulse, 17 June 2003

Aspirin treats Staphylococcal headache

Infection caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus can lead to the development of serious conditions such as endocarditis, pneumonia and septicaemia, requiring intensive antibiotic therapy. The emergence of S. aureus resistance to multiple antibiotics poses serious clinical problems and scientists are working on novel strategies for treating the bacterium. Dr. Leon Iri Kupferwasser from Harbor-University of California Medical Centre, Los Angeles, the United States, has found that salicylic acid (SAL), the aspirin metabolite, reduces in vivo virulence of S. aureus in experimental endocarditis through anti-platelet and anti-microbial mechanisms. However, its direct effects on bacterial virulence have been unclear.


Clinical and laboratory S. aureus strains were examined in the presence or absence of SAL. It was observed that SAL reduced the expression of the a-hemolysin gene promoter, HLA, and the fibronectin gene promoter, fnbA, via activation of the stress response gene sigB. This results in reduced in vitro a-hemolysin secretion and fibronectin binding, two important virulence phenotypes of S. aureus. In addition, studies in experimental endocarditis confirmed the key roles of sigB (and its global regulon sarA) in mediating the anti-staphylococcal effects of SAL in vivo. The use of a cheap, simple, relatively non-toxic, resorbable compound like SAL to down-regulate staphylococcal virulence is being viewed as a major progress in the development of intervening strategies in addition to antimicrobial drugs. 


Website: www.biomedcentral.com 

Human genes can predict AIDS progression rate

A study undertaken at a Los Alamos National Laboratory in California, the United States, has revealed that people with less common types of proteins on their white blood cells seem to mount a better immune response against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and tend to fight progression of the disease better than people with common white blood cell proteins. Researchers studied a large group of homosexual men who were enrolled in the Chicago component of the Multicentre AIDS Cohort Study, an ongoing study on the natural and treated history of thousands of men infected with HIV. The confidentiality of all individual study participants was preserved.


As part of the study, the levels of AIDS virus and a type of T-cell in study participants were examined. In healthy people, helper T-cells help mount an immune response to an attacking organism. Since the AIDS virus attacks and destroys helper T-cells in humans, thereby limiting and eventually nullifying a patients ability to stop the virus from replicating, the number of T-cells within an individual is an indicator of the progression of the disease; fewer the T-cells, the greater the level of HIV infection. Researchers were able to track the progression of the disease and the viral load within study subjects over time. They compared viral load and rates of progression to proteins contained on the surface of white blood cells of study participants. The proteins, called human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), perform key functions in helping the body fight infection and enable one type of T-cell that destroys cells infected with virus to recognize those infected cells. Destruction of these cells inhibits pathogens from multiplying within those infected cells. HLAs come in several varieties, or types, and exhibit tremendous genetic diversity.


Website: www.bio.com

MEDICAL BIOTECH

Genes from three organisms create microbial factory

Researchers headed by Dr. Jay D. Keasling a Professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, the United States have developed a simple and less expensive way to make an antimalaria miracle drug by combining genes from three separate organisms into a single bacterial factory. The new drug, artemisinin, is one of the most promising next-generation antimalarials because of its effectiveness against strains of the malaria parasite now resistant to front-line drugs. However, it is now too expensive for broad use in countries like Africa where it is most needed.


Dr. Keaslings technique for transplanting yeast and plant genes to construct an entirely new metabolic pathway inside bacteria can be used generally to produce a broad family of isoprenoids, which are chemical precursors to many plant-derived drugs and chemicals of interest to industry, including the anticancer drug taxol and various food additives. Though isoprenoids are found widely in microbes, plants and marine organisms, at present they are very expensive for the chemical industry to synthesize from scratch and nearly as expensive to extract from plant material. The new technique is being considered as a big advance over the day-to-day practice in todays biotechnology industry, where protein drugs are produced primarily through fermentation by recombinant yeast, which in most cases have more than one gene inserted in them. 


Express Pharma Pulse, 12 June 2003

New immune system molecule isolated

At the Mayo Medical School, Rochester, the United States, researchers have identified a new member of the important B7 family of immune system co-stimulators, molecules capable of turning the immune system on or off and in the process profoundly affecting human health. B7-H4, the latest addition, inhibits the action of T cells in the immune system. Turning off T cells, which attack invaders, helps transplant patients accept foreign organs. However, turning off T cells harms cancer patients, as their tumours continue to grow without defensive attacks by T cells. These recent findings may help understand how to manipulate immune system co-stimulators to serve therapeutic objectives such as stopping the body from attacking itself in autoimmune diseases, thwarting rejection of transplanted organs and guiding the body to attack a cancer cell.
B7-H4 is fourth in a line of so-called co-stimulation molecules discovered and, as in so many families, not all B7 members of this molecule family serve the body the same way. Some boost the immune system while others blunt its effect and a few others do both, at different times, depending on the partner to which they bind and the pathways for action they create. It was discovered that B7-H4 is a very powerful negative regulator, highly efficient at turning off T cells. This is important because in certain diseases like cancer, this regulator may be overly active. Negative regulators are absent in healthy cells, implying that the cells are healthy since they do not have B7-H4 shutting down T cells that police the body for invaders; their T cells are working and are protecting them. The mechanism by which B7-H4 inhibits T cells appears to be one of arresting cell division and cell proliferation cycle. 


Contact: Ms. Mary Lawson, the United States. Tel: +1 (507) 2845 005; 


E-mail: newsbureau@mayo.edu  


Website: www.bio.com 

Aspirin could reduce the risk of deadly infections

Adding to the long list of the benefits of aspirin, researchers led by Dr. Ambrose Cheung at Dartmouth Medical School, the United States, have found that aspirin is responsible for lowering toxic bacteria associated with serious infections. The study focused on the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus and its role in infections in animal tissue, and showed how salicylic acid produced when the body degrades aspirin disrupts the bacterias ability to adhere to host tissue, thereby reducing the threat of deadly infections.


S. aureus (generally referred to as staph) is a leading cause of serious systemic infections and abscesses. By disrupting this stress system, aspirin reduces the bacterias ability to adhere to the host tissue. 


Additionally, salicylic acid disrupted the ability of S. aureus to produce toxins, which the bacteria require to propagate and spread to other tissues. As a result, animals treated with aspirin have smaller abscesses and fewer bacteria in the infection. Though aspirin cannot be used as a cure, it reduces the ability of bacteria to cause infection. S. aureus bacteria are also responsible for sepsis, a blood poisoning disease, and is the leading cause of death in Americas non-coronary intensive care units. Cases of sepsis are growing in number each year and are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, making aspirin a possibly invaluable option for treatment. 


Website: www.bio.com 

Anti-tumour compounds discovered in magnolia cones

It has been found that seed cones from magnolia trees contain substances that inhibit the growth of new blood vessels. A team of scientists at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, the United States, found that the active ingredient in magnolia cones inhibited the growth of blood vessel endothelial cells in the laboratory and halved tumour growth in experiments on mice. For several years researchers have been interested in this class of compounds, called angiogenesis inhibitors, and clinical trials are just now assessing their effectiveness against various kinds of cancers.


Tumours, once they begin growing, cannot continue to grow past a certain size without the oxygen and nutrients that blood vessels provide. The most dangerous tumours secrete signals that tell the body to grow new blood vessels towards them. One of the growth signals is the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Angiogenesis inhibitors are designed to stop those signals from being received and come in various forms. Scientists led by Dr. Jack Arbiser had previously developed a method for screening mixtures of compounds extracted from natural sources for their ability to inhibit blood vessel growth. The magnolia tree was one of many possible sources of anti-angiogenic compounds evaluated by them, including curcumin from the turmeric plant and derivatives from mate tea.


Investigators isolated the natural magnolia mixture chromatographically and tested the fractions for their ability to prevent the growth of an endothelial cell line in culture. Endothelial cells make up the walls of blood vessels. The team identified honokiol as the active component of the magnolia extract. Honokiol is the active ingredient in the Japanese herbal medicine saiboku-to and is traditionally consumed as a tea thought to have anti-anxiety effects. Honokiol reduced the growth of endothelial cells by driving them into apoptosis, or cell death. Importantly, honokiol inhibited the growth of endothelial cells more than other kinds of cells. In mice inoculated with tumour-promoting cells, honokiol reduced tumour growth by 50 per cent over a control group. 


Website: www.LifeSciencesWorld.com 

Guidelines for funding stem cell research

The field of human embryonic stem cell research has received a major boost with the European Commission publishing its proposed guidelines for funding such projects. Funding in this field by the European Unions (EU) 6th Research Framework Programme (FP6) has been on hold while the commission attempted to balance the ethical concerns of some member states against the eagerness of others to proceed. The guidelines, yet to be ratified by the EU Council of Ministers, emphasize that each member state remains free to set its own rules. Some states already allow funding of embryonic stem cell research using non-EU funds, whereas in others it is banned. The new guidelines allow funding of the research but impose strict controls. However, projects receiving EU funding will need to meet the following criteria:
  • Stem cells can only be derived from excess supernumerary embryos donated for research after informed consent by parents
  • The cells must have been created before 27 June 2002, the date of adoption of the 6th Research Framework Programme
  • Project partners must seek ethical advice at national or local level in member states where the research will take place
  • The research must meet particularly important research objectives
  • The research will be funded only if no adequate alternative is available
  • Data and privacy protection of donors must be guaranteed and traceability of stem cells essential
  • Embryo donor/s will not be permitted to make any financial gain and
  • The research consortia will be required to make their human embryonic stem cells available to other researchers. 

Website: www.biomedcentral.com 

Motor neurons from embryonic stem cells

Scientists at the Salk Institute, California, the United States, have constructed a detailed model of how stem cells are prodded, regulated and otherwise encouraged to become not only nerve cells, but specifically motor neurons that the body relies on to move muscles and limbs throughout the body. As such, manufacturing motor nerve cells may someday be possible to help restore function in victims of spinal cord injury or such diseases of motion as Parkinsons and Lou Gehrigs disease or post-polio syndrome.
By employing biochemical techniques and testing mutations in key pathway genes, scientists worked out a model describing the formation of nerve cells. Knowing how this model works is critical to produce new neurons, especially in adults. This study has yielded the first blueprint for the cellular factory that produces motor neurons from embryonic stem cells. Working with chick embryo cells, researchers achieved a yield of 60 per cent motor nerve by tracking how two important gene and protein-regulated pathways of nerve generation collaborate to create specialized nerve cells, including motor neurons. One pathway, called basic-helix-loop-helix (bHLH for short), creates a wide range of neurons from simple stem cells while the other pathway, called LIM Homeodomain (or LIM-D), determines what type of neuron is produced. The study demonstrates how these two pathways interact, comprising the cellular factory that makes motor neurons. 


Express Pharma Pulse, 19 June 2003

Chip catches malaria parasite expressing itself

A new type of chip to record gene activity has helped scientists at the Scripps Research Institute, California, the United States, to take snapshots of the ever-changing protein profile of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. Pinning down the parasites molecular shape-shifting, the key to its invincibility, could help in the search for new treatments. In Africa, where the disease is most menacing, malaria kills 3,000 children every day and P. falciparum is rapidly developing resistance to many existing drugs.


In 2002, decoding of the malaria parasites DNA revealed that it has about 5,300 genes but just 34 per cent encode proteins with known functions; functions of the remaining genes were not known. P. falciparum goes through ten or more growth phases to survive in mosquitoes and in different parts of our bodies. The new chip recorded gene activity at nine different stages of P. falciparums life cycle and based on this scientists inferred the probable functions of mystery genes from the timing and activity of known ones. According to scientists, a similar approach could also screen new drugs directly, by adding drugs to the system to see how the drugs perturb gene expression, and in the future using parasites at different life stages extracted from malaria patients, as opposed to those grown in the lab, could improve the quality of the data. 


Website: www.nature.com 

Human drugs alter biting insects resistance

Dr. Amanda Callaghan et al. at the University of Reading, the United Kingdom, have discovered that common malaria drugs make mosquitoes more resistant to some insecticides and susceptible to others. Other drugs may have similar interactions with different biting insects and insecticides and understanding this relationship could help improve disease management. According to Dr. Callaghan by coordinating drugs and pesticides it is possible to control insects better and also release less insecticides into the environment. The recent discovery hinges on the action of a protein called P-glycoprotein (P-gp). This molecule sits on the membranes of human and insect cells, pumping out unwanted substances, like a waste disposal unit. Sometimes P-gp pumps drugs, perceived as toxic by cells, away from the vulnerable cellular machinery such as in chemotherapy-resistant tumour cells that have thousands of times more P-gp than normal on their membranes.


Researchers drew on several lines of evidence. Quinine, the original antimalarial, prevents P-gp pumping in cancer patients; P-gp protects insects by shunting pesticides out of cells. Mosquitoes fed on quinine-laced blood, are twice as susceptible to three common pesticides than those fed with untainted blood. However, in other contexts the insecticide-drug interaction is detrimental, warn researchers. Quinine-fed mosquitoes are more resistant to organophosphates, the pesticides most widely used to control malaria-carrying insects. As yet, the difference is a mystery. Since medicines for other parasitic diseases like lymphatic filariasis also inhibit P-gp activity, pests that cause these diseases including tsetse flies, sand flies, ticks and bed bugs may also vary in their susceptibility to insecticides, depending on the contents of their blood meals. 


Website: www.nature.com 

Enzyme may protect against Alzheimers disease

A study at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, the United States, has found that a protein called Pin1 may prevent degenerative brain disorders from developing and when it is removed, ageing mice exhibit symptoms similar to those of Alzheimers disease. Future human therapies may seek to boost Pin1 levels.


Pin1 is an enzyme that hastens the untangling of clumps of a spaghetti-like protein called tau, which builds up inside sickly, ageing nerve cells in test tube experiments. Tau tangles are also found in the brains of people with Alzheimers disease, other forms of dementia and Downs syndrome. Alzheimers disease affects over four million people in the United States alone. Anti-Alzheimers drugs currently being developed either seek to prevent proteins from becoming tangled, or to unravel them once they become jumbled. Pin1 boosters may prove to be a useful addition to this pharmaceutical tool kit. Pin1 is normally found in the healthy human brain, although its function remains elusive. In mice lacking the Pin1 gene, it was found that they develop protein tangles in their brain and spinal cord as they age and their nerve cells die. However, other researchers caution that it is difficult to ascribe a function to the protein if it is not present in the cells, since mice lacking Pin1 develop tau tangles but they do not have amyloid plaques, which are deposits of a different protein that form around nerve cells in Alzheimers patients.


Currently all available animal models of Alzheimers disease mimic only a subset of its symptoms and the Pin1-deficient mouse may be more natural than existing models that are engineered to overproduce abnormal proteins. Mice strain developed by the Harvard team is the first to develop a degenerative brain disease when a protein is removed. The team also analysed the brains of 10 Alzheimers patients and found that healthy cells had high levels of Pin1 whereas ailing cells, replete with tangles, had little of the protein. This hints that the enzyme may also protect healthy regions of the demented human brain. 


Website: www.nature.com 

How anthrax impairs immunity: mechanism elucidated

A team of scientists at the Emory Vaccine Centre and Yerkes National Primate Research Centre in Atlanta, the United States, has shown that anthrax lethal factor (LF) impairs the functioning of dendritic cells and thereby compromises the ability of the immune system to fight the microbe. This finding has implications for developing more effective anthrax therapies and guiding researchers in better controlling detrimental immune responses, such as in autoimmune diseases and organ rejection following transplant surgeries. Dr. Bali Pulendran, the leader of the team, chose to study dendritic cells versus the previously studied macrophages because dendritic cells are widely recognized as the most efficient antigen-presenting cells, making them pivotal in initiating and modulating any immune response against microbes. According to Dr. Pulendran, this investigation is the first to demonstrate an interaction between the micobe Bacillus anthracis and dendritic cells.


Researchers have shown that LF impairs dendritic cell function by disrupting the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase enzymes within dendritic cells, as a result of which dendritic cells become lethargic and are unable to act normally, thereby preventing activation of the immune system to attack microbes such as anthrax and as such permitting the micro-organism to spread unchecked. Based on this finding, scientists hope to develop better anthrax treatments and shape future efforts on controlling immune responses more appropriately. The team plans to test the effects of LF in suppressing other immune models, and to look more closely at the responses several days post-infection, when toxic shock-like symptoms begin. 


Website: www.bio.com

BIOINFORMATICS

Leveraging the chimp genome for HIV research

In the early days of AIDS research it was found that although chimpanzees could be infected with HIV, they do not develop full-blown AIDS. This was a major setback since this made the search for animal models of the disease more complicated. Now, scientists at Evolutionary Genomics, the United States hope to capitalize on the same fact to find new anti-HIV treatments. It is believed that SIV HIVs cousin that infects apes has been around for about two million years, which has given the animals time to adapt to it by developing some type of mechanism. According to the team, nearly 1,000 chimpanzees have been infected with the virus and a few seemed to progress to AIDS; then all but one recovered. Chimps and humans possess exceptionally similar genetic codes and immune systems. The fact that chimps do not progress to AIDS is one of the rare differences. 


Website: www.bio-itworld.com 

Uncovering genetic links to immune system diseases

At the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, the United States, researchers are using IBM technology to help discover why some people are more susceptible than others to infectious and autoimmune diseases, like leukaemia and AIDS. The study also seeks answers to medical mysteries such as why vaccines protect some individuals better than others and why some close donor-recipient transplants fail.


The new Molecular and Clinical Integrated Platform is designed to provide faster and more efficient access to information that could lead to scientific discovery. A date integration technology developed by IBM, called IBM DiscoveryLink, is helping the team integrate and share data from a variety of sources, formats and file types. Using DiscoveryLink, researchers can consolidate information from many sources into a virtual database to help solve complex medical research problems. The projects initial phase has been completed and researchers from five different Fred Hutchinson laboratories are using the system. 


Website: www.bioexchange.com 

End-to-end bioinformatics software package from TCS

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) of India has developed an end-to-end bioinformatics software package, called Biosuit, on Linux platform jointly with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and with support from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. The Alpha version of Biosuit will roll out in May 2003 with the full product expected to hit the market in one year.


Twenty leading academic bodies including the Indian Institute of Science, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Indian Institutes of Technology, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, and Universities of Hyderabad and Pune have contributed domain knowledge and tools for Biosuit. Biosuit would be comparable to Accedos, the best bioinformatics software available in the market, and at a lower, affordable price. 


Chronicle Pharmabiz, 24 April 2003

Soochika licensed to Singapore bioprocessing tech Institute

Strand Genomics Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore, India, has licensed Soochika, its microarray data mining and management product, to Singapore-based Bioprocessing Technology Institute under National University of Singapore. Soochika employs extensive data cleaning, filtering, transformation and normalization techniques. Soochika features three main analyses: pipelines-cluster analysis including multiple clustering techniques (like K-means, hierarchical, random walk, percolation, SOM, eigen-value based clustering, etc.), predictive model building (including supervised machine learning techniques like SVM, neural networks, decision tree analysis and linear regression) and differential analysis (including two-way tests, ANOVAs and other techniques). Its annotation module allows the user to get and organize relevant information on gene sequences for further analysis. This software runs on Windows, UNIX, Mac OS X and Linux platforms. 


Express Pharma Pulse, 22 May 2003

PROTEOMICS

Two motors unwind DNA

A report by University of California-Davis, the United States, reveals that RecBCD, an enzyme that unwinds the DNA double helix so that it can be copied or repaired, is powered by two motor units that run in opposite directions. RecBCD is one of a class of motor proteins that travel along either DNA or other protein tracks. The two ends of a single strand of DNA are called three-prime (3') and five-prime (5') because of the way the sugar molecules that form the backbone of the DNA are joined together. When two strands of DNA are twisted into a double helix, they run in opposite directions, so that the 3' end of one strand is next to the 5' end of the other.


RecBCD comprises three different proteins, of which RecB was known to act as a motor that travelled and unwound DNA from the 3' to 5'. Using advanced microscopy techniques to film a single molecule of RecBCD unwinding DNA in real-time, researchers have shown that the RecD subunit functions as a motor that travels in the opposite direction (5' to 3'). The motors, one on each of the double-stranded DNA, therefore push the RecBCD complex in the same overall direction. 


Contact: Mr. Andy Fell, University of California-Davis, the United States. Tel: +1 (530) 7524 533


E-mail: ahfell@ucdavis.edu


Website: www.bio.com 

Clotting protein that causes hepatitis B identified

A protein molecule that contributes to the severity of chronic viral hepatitis in humans, and which may also be implicated in SARS, has been identified by a team of scientists from Toronto General and St. Michaels Hospitals in Canada. The new protein, called Fgl2/fibroleukin prothrombinase, causes blood to clot in the livers of humans with viral hepatitis. In animal trials, the same protein caused blood to clot in the livers of mice exposed to the corona virus. Corona viruses are named for their corona-like (halo) appearance in electron micrographs and account for 50 per cent of all upper respiratory infections in humans. A mutant form of the virus is a cause of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). This virus can be fatal and has been shown to cause liver damage in mice.


Blood or fibrin clots are the clumps resulting from coagulation of the blood and may cause partial or complete blockage of a blood vessel. This deprives the tissue of normal blood flow and oxygen, resulting in damage or death of the tissue. Scientists first isolated the protein molecule from the livers of corona virus-infected mice and found that the molecule has unique and novel clotting aspects and was expressed by immune cells only when triggered by the corona virus. Once produced, fgl2 directly cleaves prothrombin to thrombin resulting in a fibrin clot at the site of acute viral infection. The same gene has been identified in humans and is shown to be triggered by the human virus hepatitis B, resulting in liver damage. However, only patients with severe hepatitis B virus infection in contrast to patients with inactive viral infection and normal controls expressed fgl2. 


Website: www.bio.com 

Protein triggers responses to bacterial and viral infections

In the United States, a joint study undertaken by a team of scientists led by Dr. Bruce Beutler of Scripps Research Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has discovered that a single protein named Trif acts as the key switch point in front line immune system reactions to both bacterial and viral infections. This discovery has now made it feasible for researchers to explain why certain symptoms, like fever, occur regardless of the cause of infection.


Mammals, including humans, employ a family of proteins called toll-like receptors, or TLRs, in first-line defence against bacteria and viruses. While TLR-3 is activated by viruses, another protein, TLR-4, responds to molecules frequently contained in bacterial cell walls. TLRs are an important part of the innate immune system, the all-purpose first-responder arm of the immune system. Once activated by invading pathogens, TLRs relay the alarm to other actors in the immune system and the innate immune system responds with a surge of chemicals that together cause inflammation, fever and other responses to infection or injury. The discovery of Trif assumes significance because a clear understanding of Trifs role could yield a target for drugs.


Website: www.LifeSciencesWorld.com

AGRI BIOTECH

GM coffee plants produce 70 per cent less caffeine

Researchers at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Japan, have genetically engineered coffee plants to have 70 per cent less caffeine than normally present in their leaves. The team used RNA interference to manipulate the plant; interfering with the gene responsible for an enzyme used to make caffeine. Experts opine that a caffeine-free bean would be an improvement over current decaffeination processes, which use water or organic solvents to remove the stimulant from the beans before they are roasted, inadvertently removing some flavour and aroma as well. However, the crucial question for brewing coffee whether beans from those plants will have less caffeine will not be known for 3-4 years, until the plants mature. 


Chemical Weekly, 22 July 2003

Single gene controls leaf form

A team led by Prof. Neelima Sinha at the University of California, the United States, has found that a single gene, known as PHANTASTICA (PHAN), controls whether a plant makes feathery leaves like a tomato or umbrella-like leaves as in Oxalis. The same mechanism is shared by a wide group of flowering plants. Plant leaves fall into two main groups simple, single-blade leaves and compound leaves with multiple leaflets. Compound leaves have either a series of alternate leaflets on each side of the stem, like a tomato, or leaflets arrayed in a circle around a point at the end of the stalk.


Scientists created genetically manipulated tomato plants so that PHAN was turned on or off. Low-PHAN tomato plants made palmate, umbrella-like leaves or needles with no leaflets at all. In plants that had normal leaves, PHAN was switched on throughout the upper surface of the leaf. In plants with palmate leaves, PHAN expression was limited to the tip of the leaf. Plants with needle-shaped leaves showed no PHAN expression at all. Results demonstrate that when PHAN is switched on in a part of the leaf, it creates an area where leaflets can form. 


Website: www.bio.com 

GM labelling in China

In China, as per two rules passed by the Ministry of Agriculture (Safety Regulations on Agricultural Genetically Modified (GM) Crops) and the Ministry of Health (Ordinance on Genetically Modified Food) in 2001, all products made from GM organisms listed in an official registry of GM products and all food containing transgenic material should have been labelled no later than March 2002. However, these rules are far from being fully implemented, more than a year after their deadlines have passed. According to industry insiders, the problem is due to the lack of a cost-effective method for detecting GM products with sufficient sensitivity, coupled with business concerns. Standard inspection methods, such as ELISA and PCR techniques, cost over US$100 for each sample, which becomes prohibitively expensive for detection in massive seed lots. In addition, labelling may incur higher inspection costs and the expense of setting up a traceability system, which the industry is not keen to shoulder. 


Website: www.nature.com 

European Commission stipulates GM guidelines

Guidelines to ensure that genetically modified (GM) crops can be grown along with conventional and organic farming products has been issued by the European Commission (EC). These guidelines are intended to help member states develop workable measures for coexistence in conformity with EU legislation. EC has emphasized that legislating in this specific area should be a matter for individual member states. Since what is an efficient and cost-effective best practice is specific to national and regional or local conditions, an EU-wide one-size-fits-all approach is untenable. A few anti-GM groups have welcomed this development for bringing more clarity about the legislative responsibilities. The guidelines stipulate that measures adopted by member states should include appropriate isolation distances, cooperation among neighbouring farms, monitoring and evaluation of the success of coexistence measures, and appropriate training initiatives. Further, the guidelines state that farmers should be able to choose the production type they prefer, without imposing the necessity to change already-established production patterns.


Website: www.biomedcentral.com

PUBLICATIONS

Biological Control of Pests and Weeds for Sustainable Development

Published by the Centre for Science and Technology of Non-aligned and other Developing Countries, this book is based on an international workshop and collaborative project-planning meeting held at Bangalore, India. Biological control has gained strong impetus and acceptance in most developing nations. This invaluable guidebook forms a useful resource for those interested in furthering the cause of biological control as the core of IPM programmes and cornerstones for environment-friendly crop production in several countries.


Contact: Director, NAM S&T Centre, Core 6A, 2nd Floor, India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi 110 003, India. Tel/Fax: +91 (11) 2464 4974/4973


E-mail: namstct@vsnl.com 

Introduction to Bioinformatics: A Theoretical and Practical Approach

Intended as an introductory text for the graduate, undergraduate or professional, this book provides readers with a biological framework to understand the questions life scientists confront in the context of computational issues and tools that are currently available for scientific research. It also provides researchers with a resource to various computational tools that are available, all supported with their underlying mathematical foundations. Topics covered include: basic cellular structure and the decoding of the genome, regulation of genomes and the molecular genetic basis of disease as a consequence of genetic replication, management and analysis of DNA sequencing projects, along with a review of how DNA can be modelled as a statistical series of patterns, etc.


Contact: Humana Press, 999 Riverview Dr. Suit 208, Totowa, NJ 07512, the United States. Fax: +1 (973) 2568 341


E-mail: humana@humanapr.com


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