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Apr 1, 2008 (Vol. 28, No. 7)

Saskatchewan Looks Past AgBiotech Roots

Canadian Province Puts Genomic Background to Use in Biopharma

  • Additionally, the plant’s seeds are rich in starch with commercial value. The starch particles, which are extremely tiny, have unique texture properties that are desired by the cosmetic industry.

    “Industrial markets for saponins and starch are already established,” says Dr. Arnison. The company is developing Saponaria as a crop for western Canada, followed by sales of the plant’s starch and saponins.

    Poultry Vaccines

    Founded in 2001, Guardian Biotechnologies focuses on developing better vaccines for the poultry industry. The company is perfecting a vaccine for Coccidiosis, a disease caused by a group of intracellular protozoan parasites that produce intestinal lesions and weight loss that costs poultry producers $1.5 billion worldwide. The parasites have rapidly developed resistance to drugs used since the 1950s.

    “The current vaccines are live vaccines made by feeding chickens small amounts of a parasite,” points out Jim MacPherson, Ph.D., CSO. The parasite enters the intestines, replicates, and is excreted in feces. Then the live parasite is collected from feces and cleaned in a very time consuming and expensive process. “Our approach is molecular and based on very specific immunizing antigens,” says Dr. MacPherson. The laboratory-made vaccine contains no live parasites, which should reduce manufacturing costs.

    Guardian’s vaccine can be fed to chickens or delivered in ovo; i.e., injected into developing eggs at day 18 just before chickens hatch at day 21. Poultry growers prefer the in ovo method, because all eggs are currently vaccinated this way against Marek’s disease.

    “We can apply our vaccine to this system,” Dr. MacPherson says. The company is conducting dosing studies of its Coccidiosis vaccine. Another vaccine for Newcastle virus, which destroyed 3.5 million birds in California in 2003 and cost $104 million to contain, is in the pipeline.

    Oilseeds for Biofuels

    Agrisoma Biosciences, founded in 2002, develops crops genetically engineered for biofuels. The company’s plant-transformation system allows up to 20 genes to be inserted into plants to modify oils used to make biodiesel and other biofuels. “Oil-based plants like canola are the starting point for biodiesel,” explains molecular biologist Steve Fabijanski, Ph.D., CEO. “We have developed the means to significantly change oil composition and yields to address the growing need for renewable energy.”

    In standard gene-insertion methods, one or two genes are added randomly to plants, and researchers pick the best outcomes. In contrast, Agrisoma scientists identified a specific region within plant chromosomes where they could insert a suite of genes that act together, such as those that control oilseed production. The insertion site, or heterochromatic DNA, located in the pericentric region of acrocentric chromosomes, is highly stable and supports gene expression.

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