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Feature Articles : Apr 1, 2008 ( )
Saskatchewan Looks Past AgBiotech Roots
Canadian Province Puts Genomic Background to Use in Biopharma
Located in Canada’s heartland, Saskatchewan is recognized for its agricultural biotechnology and livestock genomics. With about half of Saskatchewan’s land devoted to agriculture, it’s not surprising that the province’s biotechnology companies have agricultural roots. Phenomenome Discoveries, which specializes in metabolomics profiling, is an exception.
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.
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.
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.”
When Agrisoma researchers use their method to insert genes that modify oilseed production, yields increase 40% to 50%. When the same genes are inserted using standard methods, though, yields rise only 5%. The company also created technology to load new genes into this region to achieve further productivity gains.
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