VATIS Update Biotechnology . Oct-Dec 2014

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Biotechnology Oct-Dec 2014

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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DCGI to approve clinical trial proposals for new drugs

The Union health ministry, India, has announced that the clinical trial proposals of new drugs already approved in other countries, fixed dose combinations (FDCs), subsequent new drugs, vaccines, etc. will henceforth be disposed of by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). This practically means that the pharmaceutical companies seeking permission from the Union health ministry, do not have to go through the present time-consuming process of three-tier screening system under which each and every proposal is examined first by the NDAC (presently renamed as SECs), then by the Technical Committee headed by DGHS and finally by the Apex Committee headed by union health secretary.

At present, all clinical trial proposals including proposals of NCEs, GCTs, clinical trial of new drugs already approved in other countries, FDCs, subsequent new drugs and vaccines are being evaluated through a three-tier system of SECs, Technical Committee and Apex Committee. Earlier in its order last year, in the matter of Swasthya Adhikar Manch, the Supreme Court of India, had ordered that all the cases of clinical trials of new chemical entity should be conducted strictly in accordance with the procedure prescribed in Schedule ‘Y’ of Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940 under the direct supervision of the union health secretary.

This year, the Supreme Court of India in its order directed that henceforth the format seeking information from the applicants, three specific columns for risk versus benefits to the subjects, innovation vis-a-vis existing therapy and unmet need to the country should be inserted for the purpose of NCEs/GCTs. In view of these facts and circumstances, the DCGI then placed a proposal before the Technical Committee that it may be appropriate for the Technical Committee to consider the evaluation of the proposals of clinical trial which are related to GCTs/NCEs only and clinical trial proposals of drugs related to other than GCT/NCEs may be disposed of at CDSCO level.

India to ratify protocol that promotes biotech research

India is set to ratify a supplementary protocol, which promotes innovation in agriculture and healthcare research and development that is safe for the environment and human beings. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has given its approval for ratifying the “Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur supplementary protocol on liability and redress to the Cartagena protocol on bio-safety”. The proposed approach provides for an international regulatory framework in the field of liability and redress related to living modified organisms that reconciles trade and environment protection.

The Supplementary Protocol would promote sound application of biotechnology making it possible to accrue benefits arising from modern biotechnology while minimising the risk to the environment and human health, an official said. It will promote innovation in agricultural and healthcare research and development that is safe for the environment and human beings. The proposal will protect the interests of all Indians without distinction or differentiation. The proposal is based on the principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, both internationally negotiated and binding legal instruments.

IIT-B wins national awards for biotech research

The Biosciences and Bioengineering departments at IIT Bombay, India, have created two innovative portable diagnostic systems to measure blood sugar and other components. Rohit Srivastava, an associate professor, who has worked on both the projects was recently awarded the Vasvik Award, for scientific and industrial research, and is now set to be awarded by the Prime Minister in December. The two projects, ‘Su Chek’ and ‘uChek’, analyze blood and urine respectively and measure various parameters in the body. While Su Chek tracks blood sugar levels using a drop of blood, uChek tests urine samples for glucose, bilurubin, ketone, pH, and proteins. The two products were prepared by five IIT students guided by Rohit Srivastava, who has been teaching at IIT Bombay for nine years now. In the last leg of its testing process, Su Chek – has been prepared for the general public – aims to replace the popular Accu Chek to monitor blood sugar for personal use. After about nine months of research, the team created Su Chek, which works on a colorimetric system, where a change in colour of the blood when placed on test strip indicates glucose levels. While the final testing process is nearing completion, Su Chek is awaiting the approval from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI). Su Chek is priced at Rs. 1,000 for the unit, is lower than the average price of other similar devices available in the market which cost Rs 1,300.

uChek, which works on urine sample, is already available in the market, but only for pathology laboratories. The kit comes with a smartphone that has a pre-installed application. The phone stores the test results using cloud technology. The phone also captures images of the strip dipped in the urine sample and displays results of about 10 components based on colour change.

Indigenous microscope that generates 3D images of objects

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India, has launched an indigenous microscope that generates 3D images of objects. The ‘Broad Spectrum Confocal Microscope’ has several applications in medicine and materials sciences. It uses an infra-red beam, which passes through a patented photonic crystal fibre made by the Central Glass and Ceramics Research Institute (CGCRI), India. “The optic fibre produces multiple wavelengths from the laser due to its surface which has very small holes. This is similar to the way a peacock’s feather scatters light. This is projected on to the target object which allows us to see a three dimensional structure of the object,” said Kamal Dasgupta, CGCRI Director.

The microscope was developed along with Vinvish Technologies, India, under the New Millennium Indian Technology Initiative, an effort launched by the CSIR over a decade ago to develop technologies through collaborative efforts by research laboratories and technology companies in India. “While similar confocal microscopes cost about Rs. 4 crore to import, these will be priced between Rs. 1.25 crore and Rs. 1.5 crore. It has taken us two years to develop this with a Rs. 2.5-crore loan from CSIR,” said Suresh Nair, at Vinvish Technologies.

“This not only fulfils our goal of Make in India but it is also world class… A dream I cherish is to make the CSIR’s 38 labs into centres of excellence that would attract students from around the world. Scientists have also agreed to devote 12 hours every year to teaching in schools and colleges,” said Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for Science and Technology.

Gates foundation to donate $500m to fight malaria

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, run by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, will donate more money toward its goal to stamp out malaria from the world. The announcement is considered as the latest development in Gates’ broader plan to fight tropical diseases. According to Gates, the foundation will increase its budget to tackle malaria by 30 percent to spend more than $200 million a year, which will be in addition to the foundation’s other endowments toward the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Gates foundation will also commit more than $500 million in total this year to fight various diseases, including pneumonia, and diarrheal and parasitic diseases in poor countries.

The foundation’s plans to eradicate malaria, which kills more than 600,000 people each year, also includes a $156 million award to the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, or MVI, in building new vaccines that will interrupt the cycle of the malarial parasite’s transmission. In addition to malaria, the Gates foundation pledged $50 million for research on Ebola treatments, tests and vaccines. “Some countries and groups have contributed to help contain the Ebola virus, but a larger effort is needed to stop the outbreak, which has killed about 5,000 people in eight countries this year,” Gates said.

NIH grants up to $70M to develop vaccine adjuvants

The National Institutes of Health, the United States, has forged 7 research agreements with academic and industry partners aimed at identifying new adjuvant candidates that could be used in vaccines to boost immune responses against various pathogens. The contracts, which could total up to $70 million over 5 years, are with Boston Children’s Hospital, the United States, Vaxine PTY, Australia, GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK), the United States, Corixa Corporation, the United States, Duke University, the United States, Oregon Health & Science University, the United States, University of Kansas the United States, and University of California (UC), the United States.

Used to make vaccines more effective, adjuvants can help enhance the protective effects of immunization for people who would otherwise not respond well to vaccines, such as infants, the elderly and immunocompromised people. Adjuvants also have the potential to help create vaccines against diseases for which no vaccines currently exist. Aluminum gels or aluminum salts, which have been used for more than 70 years in a number of vaccines, are the only vaccine adjuvants currently licensed for use in the U.S. The three US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved alumimun-based adjuvants are alum, AS04 and AS03. Alum in found in vaccines that protect against hepatitis B and pneumococcal infections. AS04 is included in the HPV vaccine Cervarix, and AS03 is in an H5N1 bird flu vaccine.

Previous National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) adjuvant discovery contracts identified adjuvants that trigger a small set of receptors that call the innate, or inborn, immune system, into immediate action to provide a nonspecific defense mechanism. The new NIAID awards will be focused on looking for compounds that can activate the other immune system, called the adaptive immune system, which can provide long-term protection from infection by specific pathogens.

Researchers seek crucial tool to test Ebola

Searching for a new way to attack Ebola, companies and academic researchers are now racing to develop faster and easier tests for determining whether someone has the disease. Such tests might require only a few drops of blood rather than a test tube of it, and provide the answer on the spot, without having to send the sample to a laboratory. The tests could be essential in West Africa, where it can take days for a sample to travel to one of the relatively few testing laboratories, leaving those suspected of having the disease in dangerous limbo. Rapid tests might also be used to screen travelers at airports, providing a more definitive answer than taking their temperatures. The World Health Organization is encouraging development of rapid tests, as is the federal government.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is giving emergency authorization for use of qualified Ebola tests and gave a clearance for a one-hour test developed by BioFire Defense, the United States, although that test requires more than a few drops of blood and is typically sent to a laboratory. “It would have taken years to get this product approved through the traditional process,” said Kirk Ririe, chief executive of BioFire Defense. Companies are hoping to get their tests into the field in Africa in the next few months, but it is not clear how many will be in time to make a difference in the outbreak. And some health specialists caution that while one company after another is announcing an Ebola test, there is little information about their accuracy.

FDA approves egg-free influenza vaccine for adults

Produced by Protein Sciences Corporation, the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the ‘Flublok’ influenza vaccine, for all adults 18 years and older. The FDA also approved the vaccine for use in individuals 50 and older under its accelerated approval process of biological products regulations. Flublok is the only licensed flu vaccine on the market that is made using modern recombinant technology. The vaccine is 100 percent egg-free and contains three times more active ingredients than traditional flu vaccines.

“Older adults are known to be at high risk for contracting and developing complications from influenza. Flublok has been shown to induce high antibody levels in seniors,” said Lisa Dunkle, at Protein Sciences. Protein Sciences specializes in developing vaccines and producing protein. Flublok is a modern vaccine with particular benefits to individuals who need to avoid exposure to egg proteins, gelatin, latex, formaldehyde or antibiotics as Flublok is free of all of these unnecessary and avoidable components. Flublok is available nationwide at Passport Health locations nationwide and some pharmacies, clinics and doctor’s offices.


GMS Holdings invests in Strides for a biotech project

Strides Arcolab (Strides), India, has entered into an agreement with GMS Holdings (GMS), Jordan, regarding stake of 25.1 percent in its biotech arm, Stelis Biopharma Pvt Ltd, India, for the total investment of US$ 21.90 million. Strides has already invested $16.9 million in Stelis. As per agreement Strides and GMS will invest an amount of $61.9 million taking total equity investment in Stelis to $78.8 million. Stelis also has a project credit line of $40 million. With the total equity infusion of US$ 78.8 million and credit line of US$ 40 million, no further funding will be required till commercialization.

“We are extremely pleased to have GMS Holdings as our strategic partner for the emerging biotech business. GMS Holdings has a track record of having partnered in successful businesses, with a strong presence in the MENA region. This partnership will accelerate our emerging market strategy for the biotech business,” said Joe Thomas, Chief corporate development officer of Strides.

Google’s health startup forges venture with AbbVie

Google’s ambitious health startup is teaming up with biotechnology drugmaker AbbVie, the United States, in a $500 million joint venture that will try to develop new ways to treat cancer and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The alliance announced calls for Google Inc., the United States, and AbbVie Inc to each invest $250 million in the project. An additional $1 billion may be poured into the project. The two companies will split all expenses and any profits generated by the venture.

Calico, the United States, a company hatched by Google in 2013, will manage a team of scientists who will work at a research-and-development lab. AbbVie, a spin-off from Abbott Laboratories, the United States, will oversee the marketing of the drugs. The North Chicago, Illinois, company already has been working on drugs to fight Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s and other ailments. Google set up Calico as separate business last year to pursue medical breakthroughs that would enable people to live longer. Toward that end, Calico is doing extensive research to get a better understanding about how the human body ages and working on technology that could cure cancer.

ASLAN to enhance clinical development through Medidata

ASLAN Pharmaceuticals, Singapore, an oncology-focused biotechnology company, has selected Medidata’s Clinical Cloud, the United States, as an enterprise-wide technology platform to enhance its clinical development. The adoption of the industry-leading Medidata Clinical Cloud™ supports the company’s strategy of maximizing the value of its in-licensed drug portfolio by conducting high quality, efficient clinical development in Asia. With offices in Singapore and Taiwan, ASLAN licenses pre-clinical and early clinical compounds from global pharmaceutical companies and leverages high-quality, innovative clinical centers in Asia to advance drug development.

In support of this work, ASLAN is using Medidata’s cloud-based technology for electronic data capture and management (Medidata Rave®) and randomization and supply management (Medidata Balance®). “We selected the Medidata Clinical Cloud as our enterprise-wide technology platform because it is helping us bring greater speed and efficiency to clinical trials. With its broad adoption across Asia, the Medidata platform allows us to be more creative, agile and efficient, while ensuring investigator engagement in our studies,” said Dr. Mark McHale, at ASLAN.

CCM to benefit from Biocon’s new generic insulin facility

Chemical Company of Malaysia Bhd (CCM) will get access to Asia’s largest integrated generic insulin facility built by largest biopharmaceutical company, Biocon Ltd, India, once the factory is officially opened next year in Johor, Malaysia. CCM Pharmaceuticals Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CCM, will exclusively distribute and market ‘Insugen’, which is indigenously developed by Biocon using a proprietary fermentation technology, for Malaysia and Brunei markets. “The Johor operations are expected to launch by February 2015 and will have a bigger capacity than Biocon’s existing facility in Bangalore, India. With an investment of at least US$160 million (US$1=RM3.34), the Johor facility is poised to cater for the global requirements of Biocon’s range of biopharmaceutical products,” said Srinivasan Raman, Biocon Head of Malaysia operation.

Meanwhile, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Senator Datuk Seri Idris Jala said, “The collaborative effort between CCM and Biocon marked the first of many initiatives that was in tandem with Malaysia’s aspirations to enhance its generic pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity. As articulated through our National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) Healthcare Entry Point Project 3 (EPP3), Malaysia aims to leverage on the impending patent expiry of major drugs to promote the manufacturing of generic drugs in the country, a move that will attract investments, estimated at about US$132 billion for the industry.”

Apollo Hospitals ties up with AliveCor for mobile ECG devices

Apollo Hospitals, India, has tied up with the AliveCor Inc., the United States, to provide mobile electrocardiogram (ECG) devices to patients suffering from arrhythmias. “The heart-monitor device, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), would be sold to patients for Rs. 12,000 to keep a tab on their heartbeat,” said Dr. Pratap C Reddy, Chairman, Apollo Hospitals. The device is smart phone-enabled and compatible with global standards.

“It can wirelessly record, display, store and transfer hear rate and single channel electrocardiogram to a doctor remotely located,’’ said Euan Thomson, President and CEO, AliveCor. The monitor can be connected to a central round-the-clock station for interpretation of data/reading of the report for a monthly subscription of Rs. 1,000 for the first three months.

Epirus gets nod for arthritis drug in India

Epirus Biopharmaceuticals Inc., the United States, has received final approval for ‘BOW015’ from Drug Controller General of India, to manufacture and sell ‘BOW015’, a biosimilar to Remicade of Johnson & Johnson, the United States, for treating inflammatory diseases. Epirus and its commercialisation partner Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, India, expect to launch the drug, under the brand name ‘Infimab’, by the first quarter of 2015. The medicine is used for the treatment of inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, ankylosing spondylitis, ulcerative colitis, psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis.

“With these final clearances, we are now able to deliver a high quality product to patients who may not be able to afford current treatment options,” said Amit Munshi, President and CEO of Epirus. Under the terms of the agreement, Epirus will develop and supply BOW015, and Ranbaxy will register and commercialise BOW015 in India as well as in other territories in Southeast Asia, North Africa, and selected other markets, Epirus said. Ranbaxy and Epirus had signed a licensing agreement for BOW015 in January, 2014.

Market for proteomics research tools facing sharp growth

According to a report recently released to the biotech industry prepared by Kalorama Information, the United States, predicts sharp growth in research efforts in the field of proteomics with concurrent growth in sales of research supplies and equipment. The report, “Proteomics Markets for Research and IVD Applications,” indicated that the USD 5 billion market for proteomics instruments, reagents, and testing for research and diagnostic applications was likely to grow rapidly over the next several years, despite cost pressures generally in research. Proteomics is the study of protein structure and function.

At the cellular level, investigators attempt to determine which proteins are expressed, when and where they are expressed, what is their structure in both active and inactive states, what roles they play in the life of the cell, and how they interact with other proteins and molecules. While many different types of technologies are used to study proteins, demands for the three main technologies: mass spectrometry, antibodies (or antibody capture), and knowledge bases are expected to grow significantly. “It is enormously difficult to study proteins, but hard-fought discoveries made in the research enable biomarker discovery, drug discovery, new IVDs, and personalized solutions,” said Bruce Carlson, of Kalorama Information. There are many manufacturers willing to assist customers with technologies, creating a vibrant market. New platforms based on a wide range of proteomics technologies have already started to reach the in vitro diagnostics market.


Researchers advanced genome editing techniques

Customized genome editing – the ability to edit desired DNA sequences to add, delete, activate or suppress specific genes – has major potential for application in medicine, biotechnology, food and agriculture. Now, in a paper published in Molecular Cell, researchers from the North Carolina State University (NC State), the United States, have examined six key molecular elements that help drive this genome editing system, which is known as CRISPR-Cas. Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou, and Dr. Chase Beisel, at NC State, used CRISPR-Cas to take aim at certain DNA sequences in bacteria and in human cells. CRISPR stands for ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,’ and Cas is a family of genes and corresponding proteins associated with the CRISPR system that specifically target and cut DNA in a sequence-dependent manner.

Essentially, bacteria use the system as a defense mechanism and immune system against unwanted invaders such as viruses. Now that same system is being harnessed by researchers to quickly and more precisely target certain genes for editing. The CRISPR-Cas system is spreading like wildfire among researchers across the globe who are searching for new ways to manipulate genes. “The paper’s findings will allow researchers to increase the specificity and efficiency in targeting DNA, setting the stage for more precise genetic modifications,” said Barrangou. The collaborative effort with Caribou Biosciences, the United States, illustrates the focus of these two NC State laboratories on bridging the gap between industry and academia, and the commercial potential of CRISPR technologies.
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Genetic switch could cure HIV AIDS

Scientists from the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), the United Kingdom, have unveiled the genetic mechanism by which they believe two men were spontaneously cured of HIV, and said the discovery may offer a new strategy in the fight against AIDS. In both asymptomatic men, the AIDS-causing virus was inactivated due to an altered HIV gene coding integrated into human cells. Their work has been published in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection. According to researchers, this, in turn, was likely due to stimulation of an enzyme that may in future be targeted for drug treatment to induce the same response.

“This finding represents an avenue for a cure,” said Didier Raoult at Inserm. Neither of the men, one diagnosed HIV positive 30 years ago and the other in 2011, have ever been ill, and the AIDS-causing virus cannot be detected with routine tests of their blood. In both, the virus was unable to replicate due to DNA coding changes that the researchers proposed were the result of a spontaneous evolution between humans and the virus that is called “endogenization.” The approach hitherto has been the opposite: to try and clear all traces of HIV from human cells. The team said they did not believe the two patients were unique or that the phenomenon was new.
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Researchers sequenced new bacterial genome

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the United States, are the first team to sequence the entire genome of the Clostridium autoethanogenum bacterium, which is used to sustainably produce fuel and chemicals from a range of raw materials, including gases derived from biomass and industrial wastes. The ORNL work was funded by LanzaTech, the United States, a biotechnology company, with an innovative carbon recycling process. LanzaTech’s gas fermentation platform uses proprietary microbes for efficiently converting carbon-rich waste gases and residues into useful fuels and chemicals.

Successfully sequencing Clostridium autoethanogenum – classified as a complex, class III microbe because of its many repeating units of DNA bases – has been of significant interest to the biotechnology industry. “With the complete genomic sequence, we will have a better understanding of the microbe’s metabolism and mutations that will enable LanzaTech to make modifications to the wild-type, or naturally occurring, strain for optimizing the conversion of waste into fuel. Our ORNL lab has a lot of experience sequencing genomes, and we have the analytic capability to tackle this project,” said Steve Brown at ORNL.

The research team sequenced the more than 4.3 million base pairs of DNA that make up the organism’s genome using RS-II long-read sequencing technology developed by Pacific Biosciences (PacBio). Although long-read sequencing technologies still struggle with high error rates, they promise to advance the biotechnology industry by making it possible to sequence microorganisms with many repeating sequences, such as Clostridium autoethanogenum, within a reasonable amount of time at reasonable cost. The project also revealed information about the genetic history of Clostridium autoethanogenum through short DNA sequences known as CRISPR systems, which retain genetic mutations such as those created during a viral infection that are subsequently passed on to future generations of a microbe.
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An insight study on genetic drivers of thyroid cancer

Investigators with The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Research Network, the United States, have identified new molecular subtypes that will help clinicians determine which tumors are more aggressive and which are more likely to respond to certain treatments. Their findings have confirmed that papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTCs) are driven primarily by mutations in one of two cancer-associated genes: BRAF (and a particular mutation, V600E) or RAS. The work also detailed many differences between the two genetic types, particularly in signaling pathways that promote tumor development and growth. The study led by Dr. Thomas Giordano, at University of Michigan, the United States, has been published online in the journal Cell.

The researchers developed a scoring system to reflect gene expression in the two PTC types, allowing them to characterize tumors and determine both the pathway a tumor uses to send signals and its relative aggressiveness. Where a tumor lies on a scale – called its thyroid differentiation score – can have important treatment implications because different tumor signaling properties can mean the cancer responds differently to particular therapies. The study also showed that BRAF-driven tumors have a broader range of genetic complexity than previously thought, with distinct subtypes. The results suggest a need for a new classification system that more accurately reflects underlying genetic characteristics of the cancer. Thyroid cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the US, with more than 20,000 new PTC cases each year. Most thyroid cancers are slow-growing and treatable with surgery, hormone therapy and radioactive iodine.
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IBM Watson lends analytic power to genomic medicine

With help from the Lerner Research Institute’s Genomic Medicine Institute (LRI-GMI), the United States, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, the United States, have used IBM’s Watson Genomics Analytics, to harness the powers of big data to spot genetic indicators for certain cancers. From there, doctors can formulate individualized treatment plans based on the patient’s DNA. IBM said Watson has a unique ability to overcome the “needle in the haystack” challenge that often arises with genomic mapping. Doctors need to be able to correlate data from genome sequencing to reams of medical journals, new studies and clinical records – while also treating the patient with the best available procedures.

The Watson Genomics Analytics application is a combination of Watson’s cognitive system, deep computational biology models and IBM’s public cloud infrastructure SoftLayer. With its ability to rapidly review massive databases and continually learn with each new patient scenario, researchers and doctors hopes that Watson will allow them to increase the number of patients who have access to the tailored care options. “The potential for leveraging the capabilities of Watson’s cognitive computing engine in personalized medicine could not be timelier. Clinicians will benefit from the knowledge and insight provided by Watson in the care of their patients,” said Dr. Charis Eng, at the LRI-GMI.

This isn’t the first foray Watson has made into healthcare. The super computer has also been utilized by the Mayo Clinic, as well as through IBM’s partnerships with healthcare providers such as WellPoint and Memorial Sloan-Kettering. IBM even says the latest pilot initiative with the Cleveland Clinic is an extension of on-going programs with the renowned cancer treatment center that aim to aid in the advancement of big data in healthcare. Using Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities, Cleveland Clinic is aiming to advance a new era of cognitive computing that will aide in the acceleration of new discoveries and bring forward new breakthroughs in personalized medicine.
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New technique to measure structurally modified proteins

Researchers from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), Switzerland, and the University of Padua, Italy, they have found a way to measure the majority of structurally modified proteins in any biological sample, which can contain thousands of different proteins. They add that measurements can be made from complex protein mixtures such as those that occur in cells, without cleaning or enriching the samples. The study has been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology. For their new method, the scientists combined an “old” technique and a modern approach from proteome research. First, digestive enzymes such as proteinase K are added to the sample, which cut the proteins depending on their structure into smaller pieces known as peptides.

The fragments can then be measured using a technique known as Selected Reaction Monitoring (SRM). This method enables many different peptides to be specifically found out and their quantities measured. Based on the peptides found, proteins that were originally present in the sample can be determined and quantified. Until now, there has been a lack of methods that enable structurally modified proteins to be recorded quantitatively in complex biological samples, according to the researchers, who pointed out that although there is a series of techniques to study structurally modified proteins, such as x-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and other spectroscopic techniques, they cannot be used to analyze complex biological samples.

Other procedures that researchers have used to study structural changes of proteins in cells also have their limits. Prior to the analysis, the proteins of interest have to be specifically marked to enable the scientists to observe them in samples. However, this approach is only possible for a few proteins in a sample. “What makes the new method so useful is that the digestive enzymes cut the same kind of proteins that have different structures in different places, resulting in diverse fragments,” explained Dr. Paola Picotti, a professor ETHZ. Like a fingerprint, these fragments can be clearly assigned to the individual structures of the protein. With the aid of the test, the scientists managed to measure the exact amount of pathogenic and nonpathogenic alpha-synuclein directly in a complex sample. The test also yielded information on the structure of the protein.

Researchers study on a new DNA repair protein

Mutations in the gene that encodes BRCA2 are well known for raising the risk of breast cancer and other cancers. Although the protein was known to be involved in DNA repair, its shape and mechanism have been unclear, making it impossible to target with therapies. Now researchers at Imperial College, the United Kingdom, and the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, purified the protein and used electron microscopy to reveal its structure and how it interacts with other proteins and DNA. The results have been published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. The study was led by Professor Xiaodong Zhang at Imperial College and Dr. Stephen West at the London Research Institute.

Around one in 1000 people in the UK have a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. The lifetime risk of breast cancer for women with BRCA2 mutations is 40 to 85 percent, depending on the mutation, compared with around 12 per cent for the general population. Many women who test positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations choose to undergo surgery to reduce their risk of breast cancer. Mutations can also raise the risk of other cancers, such as ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes encode proteins involved in DNA repair. The DNA in our cells undergoes damage thousands of times a day, caused by toxic chemicals, metabolic by-products and ultraviolet radiation. Repair mechanisms correct most of this damage, but unrepaired damage can lead to cancer.

“This study improves our understanding of a fundamental cause of cancer. It’s our first view of how the protein looks and how it works, and it gives us a platform to design new experiments to probe its mechanism in greater detail,” said Professor Zhang. The study found that BRCA2 proteins work in pairs – which the researchers found surprising since BRCA2 is one of the largest proteins in the cell. BRCA2 works in partnership with another protein called RAD51. BRCA2 helps RAD51 molecules to assemble on strands of broken DNA and form filaments. The RAD51 filaments then search for matching strands of DNA in order to repair the break. The findings showed that each pair of BRCA2 proteins binds two sets of RAD51 that run in opposite directions.

Scientists uncover how protein ensures reproductive success

An international team of researchers from Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) and Tohoku University, Japan, and Imperial College, the United Kingdom, has discovered how a single protein, called PP4, oversees the processing of DNA during sperm and egg generation for successful fertilization. This protein’s activity becomes even more paramount during aging. The study, published in the journal PLOS Genetics, may one day help scientists to understand the mechanisms underlying age-related fertility declines in humans.

While a typical adult human cell contains 46 DNA strands, or chromosomes, that carry our complete genetic information, reproductive cells such as sperm and eggs receive half of this number during a highly intricate process known as “meiosis.” How chromosomes are mixed, matched and distributed into reproductive cells accurately is essential for successful fertilization and the development of diverse new life. However, errors in the system can lead to infertility. To understand which proteins help meiosis run smoothly, the researchers used a tiny worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans to look into the role of PP4. Then they genetically engineered the worm so that PP4 was functionally disabled, and then observed the consequences of its absence on chromosome regulation during meiosis.

The researchers used a super-resolution microscope, which takes pictures at twice the level of detail compared to a normal microscope. “We found that when PP4 was missing, chromosomes failed to assemble correctly and DNA recombination, an important step for genetic diversity, did not occur. The resulting eggs were defective, and the embryos inside could not survive after fertilization,” said Aya Sato-Carlton, a researcher from iCeMS. Surprisingly, the effects of defective PP4 became even worse as the worms aged, indicating an age-related dependence. Because the PP4 DNA of worms is over 90% identical with that of humans, it is possible that the protein plays a similar role in all animals as a universal regulator of meiosis, particularly as an organism ages.

Scientists found aggregates of misfolded cellular proteins

Scientists at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research (SIMR), the United States, have made a surprising finding about the aggregates of misfolded cellular proteins that have been linked to aging-related disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Using 3-D time-lapse movies to track the fate of misfolded proteins in yeast cells, the researchers determined that about 90 percent of aggregates form on the surface of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a location of protein synthesis in the cell. It had been thought that misfolded proteins spontaneously clump together in the cytosol, the fluid component of a cell’s interior. The results have been published in the online issue of the journal Cell.

Using budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisae, a frequently used laboratory model in aging research, Scientists experimentally used heat and other forms of stress to induce misfolded proteins to clump together. They also found that the aggregation of misfolded proteins on the ER surface depends on the active synthesis of proteins by ribosomes. These molecular machines translate the cell’s recipes for proteins. Guided by the recipe, the ribosome generates a linear polypeptide chain, the initial form of a protein.

The newly synthesized polypeptide folds into a distinctive three-dimensional structure resulting in a protein with a functional shape. Proteins that fail to fold correctly cannot perform their biological functions and are potentially toxic to cells. Thus, the aggregation of misfolded or unfolded proteins may help protect the cell and prevent their transfer to daughter cells during cell division. In addition to determining that protein aggregation is regulated and requires active translation, scientists revealed that the mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses, play a key role in the mobility of these protein aggregates. The study was supported by the SIMR, the American Heart Association, and the National Institutes of Health, the United States.


Bacteria to fight dengue

Scientists in Brazil have released a batch of mosquitoes containing bacteria that are capable of reducing the ability of mosquitoes to infect people with dengue, as part of field trials conducted among dengue-affected communities. The supporters of the project are the Foundation for National Institute of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Brazilian government. The Wolbachia method of eradicating dengue is being used by Eliminate Dengue, a not-for-profit international collaboration of researchers, in which Wolbachia infection is transferred to dengue causing mosquitoes. The infected mosquitoes, in turn, pass the infection on to the next generation through their eggs. Thus, these mosquitoes lose the ability to spread dengue infection to humans.

This bacterium which is found in 70% of insects is not naturally present in dengue-causing mosquitoes, until scientists found a way to infect them with it. Wolbachia is harmless to humans. In 2011 field trials in Australia, the infection was successfully transferred into Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, where it has the potential to suppress dengue and other arboviruses, and the infection was subsequently spread into two natural populations in Cairns, Queensland. The researchers in Brazil plan to release Wolbachia mosquitoes in Rio de Janeiro once a week for three to four months, with the aim of establishing Wolbachia in the local mosquito population.

The scientists in this consortium have shown that their approach reduces dengue transmission when the bacteria is introduced in mosquitoes in lab, and now are conducting field trials in Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, Columbia and China. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there may be 50-100 million dengue infections worldwide every year, while 40% of the world population are vulnerable to it. Such attempts to biologically attack the dengue-carrying mosquito are being made by other companies as well.
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New technology can help early diagnosis of cancer

Scientists from the University of Kansas, the United States, have developed a miniaturized biomedical testing device for exosomes that can help in early diagnosis of cancer. Dubbed as the “lab-on-a-chip,” the device promises faster result times, reduced costs, minimal sample demands and better sensitivity of analysis of lung cancer when compared with the conventional bench-top instruments now used to examine the tiny biomarkers. Exosomes could lead to less invasive, earlier detection of cancer, and sharply boost patients’ odds of survival. “Exosomes are minuscule membrane vesicles or sacs released from most, cell types, including cancer cells,” said Yong Zeng, at the University of Kansas.

Also referred to as “microfluidics” technology, it was inspired by revolutionary semiconductor electronics and has been under intensive development since the 1990s and essentially, it allows precise manipulation of minuscule fluid volumes down to one trillionth of a liter or less to carry out multiple laboratory functions, such as sample purification, running of chemical and biological reactions, and analytical measurement. The prototype lab-on-a-chip has been made of a widely used silicone rubber called polydimethylsiloxane and uses a technique called “on-chip immunoisolation.”
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Scientists find potential medicine for treating arthritis

Scientists at Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), India, have discovered a new chemical compound in a Himalayan plant which has the potential to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. IIIM scientists isolated a natural product from the plant Bergenia ciliata and then through medicinal chemistry, created a chemical with potent anti-arthritic activity. This discovery has been published by the American Chemical Society in its journal.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common age-related chronic disease, characterised mainly by inflammation of the lining of the joints. Statistical data shows people with RA are two times more likely to die than people of the same age without RA.

The medicinal plant from which this compound was discovered, Bergenia ciliate, has been used for centuries in the Ayurvedic medicine to treat kidney and bladder stones, piles, and pulmonary affections.

Taking queue from the available traditional knowledge, scientists synthesised a compound, IS-01246, which displayed positive results both in in-vitro as well as in-vivo inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis models.
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Japan develops 30-minute test to quickly diagnose Ebola

Eiken Chemical Co., Japan, along with scientists from Nagasaki University, Japan, have developed a new test that could detect the Ebola virus in 30 minutes, with the help of a technology they claim is faster and cheaper than the current method being used in West Africa. More than 1,550 people have so far died from the current Ebola outbreak and over 3,000 have been infected. The new testing method, which can be conducted with a “small, battery-powered warmer,” making it ideal for use in places without an adequate power source, the scientists claimed. The current test requires dedicated equipment and a stable supply of electricity. “The new method is simpler than the current one and can be used in countries where expensive testing equipment is not available,” said Jiro Yasuda, a professor at Nagasaki University.

Yasuda and his team at the university have reportedly created what they called a “primer,” which magnifies only those genes specific to Ebola found in a blood sample or any other fluid in the body. If Ebola is present, the action of the primers distinguishes DNA specific to the deadly virus in 30 minutes. Currently, a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, is being used to detect the Ebola virus. The PCR method takes up to two hours as doctors need to heat and cool the blood samples repeatedly to complete the procedure. “The new method only needs a small, battery-powered warmer and the entire system costs just tens of thousands of yen [hundreds of dollars], which developing countries should be able to afford,” said Yasuda.

The deadly virus, which is transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, has spread across five countries including Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. As of now, there is no cure for the disease, but ZMapp, an experimental drug, has been used on patients, including two American aid workers who were recently discharged after being treated for Ebola. The drug reportedly has cured a group of 18 monkeys infected with Ebola. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the testing of a new vaccine on human subjects.
Source: http//

Scientists build artificial mini-stomachs using stem cells

Scientists from the United States, have built the world’s first ‘mini-stomachs’ consisting of tiny clusters of human gastric tissue using stem cells. Called gastric organoids, they are made up of buds of cells that are “a miniature version of the stomach” say the researchers, who also add the finding could spur new research into cancer, ulcers and diabetes. They were made from pluripotent stem cells, which were coaxed into developing into gastric cells. The study has been published in the journal Nature. “Up until now, there’s been no good way to study stomach diseases in humans,” said Jim Wells, a researcher at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the United States.

The human stomach is very different than the stomach of other animals. The different cells and their structure and arrangement in our stomach tissues in a dish were virtually identical to that that we would find in the stomach normally. Pluripotent stem cells have excited huge interest as a dreamed-of source for transplant tissue grown in a lab. Sources for them include stem cells derived from early-stage embryos and adult cells reprogrammed to their juvenile state, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). But many problems have been encountered, such as the challenge of getting cells to “differentiate,” or become cells for specific organs.

This new research entailed identifying the chemical steps that occur during embryonic development, when cells differentiate into the specific types that form the stomach. These steps were then replicated in a Petri dish so that pluripotent stem cells developed into endoderm cells, the building blocks of the respiratory and gastro-intestinal tracts. They were then biochemically nudged into becoming cells of the antrum, the stomach region that secretes mucus and hormones. Still at a preliminary stage, the organoids are a long way from being replacement tissue or a fully-fledged stomach. According to the scientists, they provided a testbed for studying diseases such as cancer, diabetes and obesity. Early tests on mice suggest they could one day be a ‘patch’ for holes caused by peptic ulcers.
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Japan carries out first iPS stem cell implant

Researchers from Riken, Japan, and the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Hospital, Japan, have conducted the world’s first surgery to implant induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in a human body in a major boost to regenerative medicine. A patient in her 70s with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common condition that can lead to blindness in older people, had implanted a sheet of retinal cells that had been created from iPS cells. It is the first time in the world that iPS cells have been transplanted into a human body. The research team used iPS cells – which have the potential to develop into any cell in the body – that had originally come from the skin of the patient.

Until the discovery of iPS several years ago, the only way to obtain stem cells was to harvest them from human embryos. The surgery is experimental, but if it is successful, doctors hope it will stop the deterioration in vision that comes with AMD. The patient – one of six expected to take part in the trial – is to be monitored for four years to determine how the implants perform and whether they become cancerous.

AMD, a condition that is incurable at present, affects mostly middle-aged and older people and can lead to blindness. About 700,000 people in Japan alone have been diagnosed. Stem cell research has excited many with the potential they believe it offers. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can develop into any part of the body. Work done in 2006 by Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, Japan, last year, generated stem cells from adult skin tissue.
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Scientists develop new blood test to determine cancer

Scientists at the University of Bradford, the United Kingdom, have developed a new blood test that can determine if an individual has cancer. According to the research team, the lymphocyte genome sensitivity (LGS) test could not only detect some cancers earlier than ever before, but it may eventually eliminate the need for some types of biopsies, as well as identify those more likely to develop cancer in the future. The study (“Sensitivity and specificity of the empirical lymphocyte genome sensitivity assay: implications for improving cancer diagnostics”) has been published in the FASEB Journal.

To develop this test, Dr. Diana Anderson, and colleagues took blood samples from a group of people that included healthy individuals, cancer patients, and people believed to be at a higher risk than normal to develop cancer. Lymphocytes in these samples were examined in a comet test, by embedding the cells in agar on a microscope slide. In this test, damage to the DNA of the cells was caused by treatment with ultraviolet (UVA) light. This damage was observed in the form of DNA pieces being pulled within the agar in an electric field toward the positive end of the field. This caused a comet-like tail, and the longer the tail, the more DNA damage.

Different thicknesses of the agar were applied to the slides. In healthy people, as different thicknesses were added, DNA-damaged tail responses returned to normal levels. In cancer patients, DNA-damaged tail responses remained high, and in those people who might develop precancerous diseases, tail responses were in between. This means that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by UVA than do other people, so the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the genome in a cell. The LGS test has been used to examine blood samples from cancer patients with melanoma, colon cancer, and lung cancer, and all gave the same outcomes.
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Flexible polymer can interact with nerves

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States, have demonstrated a highly flexible neural probe made entirely of polymers that can both optically stimulate and record neural activity in a mouse spinal cord – a step toward developing prosthetic devices that can restore functionality to damaged nerves. The study has been published in Advanced Functional Materials. Graduate student Chi (Alice) Lu, who designed and implanted the probe, is the lead author of the study.

Although optogenetics, a method that makes mammalian nerve cells sensitive to light via genetic modification, has been applied extensively in investigation of brain function over the past decade, spinal-cord research has lagged. Earlier researchers demonstrated inhibition of motor functions using optogenetics, and now the collaboration between the two groups yielded a device suitable for spinal optical excitation of muscle activity, while giving the researchers an electrical readout. “Working in a spinal cord is significantly more difficult than in the brain because it experiences more movements. The radius of the mouse spinal cord is about 1 mm, and it is very soft, so it took some time to figure out how to design a device that would perform the stimulation and recording without damaging that tissue,” said Lu.

The fiber was drawn from a template nearly 1.5 inches thick to its final diameter comparable to that of a human hair. It is flexible enough to be tied in a knot. The probe consists of a transparent polycarbonate optical core; parallel conductive polyethylene electrodes for recording neuronal electrical activity; and cyclic olefin copolymer acting both as electrical insulation and optical cladding. The flexible probe maintains its optical and electrical functions when bent by up to 270 degrees at very small radii of curvature, albeit with somewhat diminished light-carrying capacity at those conditions. The device performed well after repeated bending and straightening, holding up under stresses expected from normal body movements.
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A solution to make pests non-resistant to Bt gene

Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), India, has wrote to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), an apex body in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, India, to allow sale of refuge in bag (RIB) cottonseeds that will have Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) variety along with non-Bt. A process such as RIB will ensure that pests present on a farm growing genetically modified (GM) crop like cotton and corn do not develop resistance to the Bt gene that destroys them. “We have conducted tests of RIB seeds for the last three years and the results are promising. We have prepared the data on the results,” said KR Kranthi, director of the research institute. While the Bt variety will make up 95 percent of the RIB cottonseeds, the non-Bt one will comprise the rest.

While cultivating GM crops, it is mandatory for farmers to grow refuge or a non-GM trait of the same crop in 5 percent of the area. In India, while selling Bt cottonseeds, seed companies provide the non-Bt refuge seeds along with them in a separate packet. The objective of the RIB concept is to make growers comply with norms for growing genetically modified crop and, in turn, make the process simpler. Growing a refuge crop in the field of a Bt crop is based on the law of genetics. If a pest develops resistance to the Bt gene, then the non-Bt plant grown on the same farm will help tackle the problem. The principle is simple: the pest from the Bt plant will mate with a similar one from the non-Bt plant and develop a progeny that will not be resistant to the Bt gene.

DuPont Pioneer, the United States, came out with such a concept for Bt corn first, while Monsanto, the United States, has developed a similar concept for Bt cotton. “US companies have been developing the RIB concept for a number of years now. In India, we proposed it to the CICR and are awaiting further details from them,” said a Monsanto spokesperson. “During a meeting among stakeholders of Bt cotton, Monsanto floated the idea. We at the CICR told them that we would also like to test the RIB process,” said Kranthi.

A game changer in crop hybridisation

Bio-tech firm Monsanto, the United States, had developed a fully computerised machine which can chip seeds of crops such as maize, soyabean, cotton, wheat and proving to be game changer of genetics and hybridisation globally. The machine, called seed chipper and aided by robots, is helping to examine the genetical make-up of crops in a shorter period of time that it is resulting in seed and bio-technology companies to come up with new seed varieties at a faster clip. This is how the chipper works: seeds taken from plants are poured into a funnel in the machine, which are then passed through a computer to find out the exact location of the embryo to ensure that it doesn’t get damaged during the chipping process.

The robotic arm then ensures that the seed is placed perfectly for a chip, which then goes straight into a chamber of tray that can hold 96 such samples. Each tray is barcoded and then put in a shelf by a robot, which later picks the samples for testing of their DNAs (Deoxyribonucleic acids), RNAs (Ribonucleic acids) and other such traits. The results of the tests are then examined and the seeds from which a planter’s preferred traits are found are then identified, injected on to a seed with another preferred train and sown for getting a new variety of the plant. Monsanto holds the patent for the machine and is using it to capacity in its research and development activities. Though other companies have also come up with similar findings, Monsanto claims they haven’t tasted the success that it has so far.

The chipper chops a small faction of a crop’s seed without damaging its embryo so that the seed can be planted on the field. Not just that, it can also help examine almost all seeds a plant produces to find out various genes and traits present in different seeds. Earlier, plant breeders had to grow a crop on a farm and then had to examine their leaves to find out its various features. In such experiments, only five per cent of the crop was found to have the desirable characteristics. The rest had to be destroyed. This also limited research and development in that the activities could be done only when the crop grew. In India, Monsanto is using the chipper at its Bangalore centre for testing maize, soyabean and wheat.

New technology to control pest attack on crops

Biotechnological firms, Monsanto, the United States, and Syngenta, Switzerland, have come up with a new crop technology called ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi) that will help control insects and pests in a range of crops by disabling their genes. The technology, which zeroes in on a genetic sequence unique to a species, will also help protect bees, which are pollinators for one-third of crops in the world. RNA, considered a sort of messenger in cells, is a genetic code in every living being for a specific function within a cell for survival. RNAi, works by interfering with the genetic code or message that RNA carries to protein factories within a cell. A plant cannot produce a particular protein if does not receive any instruction from the RNA code. For example, the interference process can be used to disable an enzyme in a cell.

In soyabean, the technology can be used to specifically target proteins which control plant pigmentation or oil composition. A process found in 1990s, RNAi is now increasingly being used in plants. It is a process which scientists claim can kill pests without harming the beneficial ones. RNAi is different from the genetically modified (GM) technology, in which a gene is injected to kill the pest. In the case of RNAi, the technology is specifically targeted to disable the working of a particular cell’s functioning. Currently, RNAi is being tested in the form of a spray combination on plants. Monsanto has come up with its own version of RNAi, called BioDirect which is awaiting clearance from US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for commercial use will hit the market within a year.

BioDirect is a combination of herbicides and RNA that is sprayed on a plant. The spray binds with RNA in the plant and carries out the specified function. DuPont Pioneer has also developed RNAi technology for potato and corn but further details were not available. The rootworm is one of the most devastating species in North America. At least 30 million acres of the 80 million in the US are reported to be infested with rootworm. The Colarado beetle is a serious pest in potato and has developed resistance to many insecticides and pesticides. RNAi, if accepted, can usher in a sea change in crop genetics.

Scientists enhance quality of cereal and bioenergy crops

A team of scientists led by Dr. Thomas Brutnell, at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the United States, have developed a new way of identifying genes that are important for photosynthesis in maize, and in rice. Their research helps to prioritize candidate genes that can be used for crop improvement and revealed new pathways and information about how plants fix carbon. The findings have been published in Nature Biotechnology, also made public a mathematical model enabling access to datasets comparing C4 photosynthesis traits in plants like maize to C3 photosynthesis in plants like rice.

C4 crops including maize, sorghum, switch grass and sugarcane are able to withstand drought, heat, nitrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) limitations better than C3 crops, such as rice, wheat, barley and oats, due to their ability to efficiently make use of carbon dioxide and water that make carbohydrates we eat and cell wall polysaccharides; the sugars that are important to producing next-generation biofuels. The Danforth Center has expanded their portfolio over the years by studying model C4 grasses to improve the quality, yield and biomass of emerging bioenergy feedstocks such as miscanthus and switchgrass and that can be applied to improve food security and major cereal crops.

Some plants regenerate by duplicating their DNA

Researchers from the University of Illinois (U of I), the United States, have found that when munched by grazing animals (or mauled by scientists in the lab), some herbaceous plants overcompensate – producing more plant matter and becoming more fertile than they otherwise would. Scientists say they now know how these plants accomplish this feat of regeneration. Their study is the first to show that a plant’s ability to dramatically rebound after being cut down relies on a process called genome duplication, in which individual cells make multiple copies of all of their genetic content. The findings have been published in the journal Molecular Ecology. “Genome duplication is not new to science; researchers have known about the phenomenon for decades. But few have pondered its purpose,” said professor Ken Paige at U of I.

In a 2011 study, researchers demonstrated that plants that engage in rampant genome duplication also rebound more vigorously after being damaged. They suspected that genome duplication was giving the plants the boost they needed to overcome adversity. That study and the new one focused on Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant in the mustard family that often is used as a laboratory subject. Some Arabidopsis plants engage in genome duplication and others don’t. Those that do can accumulate dozens of copies of all of their chromosomes in individual cells. Researchers this time crossed Arabidopsis plants that had the ability to duplicate their genomes with those that lacked this ability and enhanced Arabidopsis plant’s ability to duplicate its genome. As expected, the altered plant gained the ability to vigorously rebound after being damaged.


GM agricultural technologies for Africa: A state of affairs

This report collects current information on the status of biotechnology in Africa – with an emphasis on genetically modified (GM) crops – and assesses the opportunities offered by and constraints on adoption. The authors provide information about the region’s limited financial, technical, regulatory, and legal capacities while additionally focusing on the role of trade concerns and conflicting information as limiting factors that affect adoption. The authors have identified several initiatives that could help overcome these obstacles, such as increasing public investments in agricultural biotechnology research and development; developing an effective and broad-based communications strategy. The recommendations are useful to policymakers, development specialists, and others who are concerned about the potential role that biotechnology could play in Africa as an additional tool for sustainable agriculture development.

Contact: IFPRI Headquarters, 2033 K St, NW, Washington, DC 20006-1002, USA. Tel: +1-202-862-5600; Fax: +1-202-467-4439; E-mail:

Animal Health Leaders Embrace Biotech R&D

The presence of biotechs in the animal health industry is growing. The companies working in this burgeoning industry are using biologic processes to develop large-molecule drugs and vaccines for both livestock and pets, and to improve techniques for research, development, and manufacturing. In addition to using biotech know-how to scrutinize disease pathways, animal health companies are increasingly taking biotech advances that have revolutionized human health and adapting them for veterinary use.


Biosimilars: A Global Perspective of a New Market Opportunities, Threats and Critical Strategies 2014

This book is not just a nice-to-have report chock full of facts and figures. It’s an armamentarium of information needed to participate, get ahead of the competition, and defend hard-fought-for turf. In addition to an updated list of approved biosimilars, company and deal profiles, pipeline updates of >700 products or product candidates and 25 global markets examined, the report includes competitive and defensive strategies, marketing advice and insight on the science of biosimilars.

Contact: BioWorldTM, 115 Perimeter Center Place, Suite 1100, Atlanta, GA 30346 U.S.A.


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