MSU ag, biotech research yields new technologies
With results that run from rust-resistant wheat to glowing rodent cartilage to super fluorescent fruit flies, researchers at Montana State University have developed new technologies in the areas of biotechnology and agriculture that are patent-pending and available for licensing.
In MSU’s College of Agriculture, researchers have developed rust-resistance in wheat, which could offer a solution to a spreading pathogen that has already destroyed crops in Africa and Asia. The non-genetically modified trait that has been re-created in varieties of wheat has shown resistance to a pair of rust strains – Ug99 and Yr27 – that have emerged in recent years. MSU has a patent pending.
Globally the three types wheat rust – stem, leaf and stripe rust – are the most economically damaging diseases that attack wheat. Epidemics often inflict heavy losses, sometimes wiping out 60 percent of a given crop. The development of rust-resistant varieties of wheat is estimated to have saved more than $1 billion annually over more than four decades.
In another effort, a research team in MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology working in the technology class known as CRISPR has found a novel way to turn genes on and off, which could lead to groundbreaking technologies in medical science and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as in the production of food and biofuels. MSU has a patent pending.
CRISPR-based genetic engineering tools are a recent breakthrough for controlling multiple gene functions in a range of plants, microorganisms, fungi and animals. Based on a genomic anti-viral defense response discovered in certain single-cell organisms, CRISPR stands for the DNA sequences featuring “clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” that scientists have shown can be harnessed to target and destroy or activate specific genes in cells.
Based on a rapidly emerging area of genetic research that only began to take shape in 2011, CRISPR-based technologies offer gene-editing methods that cost less, take less time and are easier to use than other genetic engineering techniques.
In an important breakthrough, the MSU CRISPR sequence is different because it limits the effect on non-targeted genes, something that has proved to be a challenge to geneticists. The MSU technology has also shown an ability to control multiple selected genes simultaneously.
These abilities have promising applications for virtually any kind of genetic engineering and hold special potential for studies of disease, the development of antibiotic, anti-viral and anti-cancer drugs, the development of high-value, disease-resistant food and biofuel crops, among other areas of interest.
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