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Weekly Mashup #18

Weekly Mashup #18

The Synthetic Biology Mashup is a weekly review of articles and news related to synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. While we share most of this on our twitter feed, if you need to catch up on this week’s news just read ahead!

Making 100 the new 60?

This week, Craig Venter launched a new company, Human Longevity Inc, in collaboration with the founder of X Prize, Dr. Peter Diamandis, and founder and CSO of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, Dr. Robert Hariri. The company aims to study human genome, microbiome, metabolome and stem cells. The scope of the project is very large: up to 100,000 human genomes will be sequenced per year. Not only that, data will also be collected on patients’ biochemicals and lipids in circulation. Through a better understanding of the process of aging, Human Longevity hopes to improve health throughout the aging process. As Peter Diamandis summarizes it, the “goal is to make 100-years-old the new 60.”

Potential New HIV Treatment Through Gene Therapy

Carl June’s team published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine a small but highly promising study in which the immune systems of HIV-positive patients were genetically modified to confer HIV resistance. The team collected patients’ T-cells and removed the gene for the CC5 receptor in 11-28% of the cells through the use of zinc finger nucleases (proteins capable of recognising specific DNA sequences, provided by Sangamo Biosciences). The removal of the CC5 receptor renders T-cells impenetrable to HIV. The genetically-modified T-cells were reintroduced into the patients’ bodies. Only 12 patients participated in the study. Following the treatment, half of the patients were taken off of their antiretroviral drugs. Four of these 6 patients completed the twelve-week antiretroviral interruption and all 4 presented reduced HIV-levels in their blood at the end of the twelve weeks. Interestingly, the patient who responded best to this treatment was heterozygous for the CCR5-delta32 mutation, a rare recessive mutation which prevents CC5 receptor expression. It has previously been established that homozygotes (people carrying two copies of the CCR5-delta32 mutation) are virtually immune to HIV. This study highlights the potential of genome-editing techniques as a safe and feasible method for the treatment of disease.

Scientists May Be a Step Closer to Easier Genetic Manipulation of Plants

The Gelvin team at Purdue University has identified a gene, published this past week in Science Signalling, called MTF1. This gene is responsible for plant susceptibility to the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The most common technique for transgenic plant creation uses Agrobacterium as a vehicle for gene transfer. However, many plant species are resistant to this bacterium and are thus much more difficult to genetically modify. The team discovered this gene in Arabadopsis, but bioinformatics analysis reveals that this same gene is present in many other crop plants including corn, soybeans, wheat, oilseed rape, cacao, and rice. These findings may have important implications for the development of genetically modified plants.

Targeted Protein Removal with “Ubiquibodies”

To facilitate the targeting and elimination of specific proteins, researchers at Cornell engineered molecules they call ubiquibodies. These work by harnessing the cells’ ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, which is a pathway used to denature and remove proteins by tagging them with ubiquitin, and then denaturing them in the proteasome. Researchers modified one of the key proteins used in ubiquitin tagging, the CHIP enzyme, to tag any desired protein. This technique should prove useful both in the study of proteins and their function. Therapeutic applications such as targeting proteins involved in Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s are currently being researched by DeLisa, one of the researchers involved in the project.

Synthetic Biology Flash News

Prof James J Collins from Boston University joins Agilis Biotherapeutics Scientific Advisory Board few months after their new Collaboration with Intrexon.

The New York Times explained in detail this week the mechanism, history and significance of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique.

Intrexon Corporation completed this week the acquisition of Medistem, a company focussing on the development and commercialisation of adult-derived stem cells. The goal of Intrexon is to genetically modify these cells and use them as vehicles for the delivery of therapeutic effectors.

The Synthetic Aesthetics book has been published this week by the MIT press. Written by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Jane Calvert, Pablo Schyfter, Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy, it explores the role of design in synthetic biology.

That’s it for this week’s Synthetic Biology Mashup! A suggestion or a question? Shoot us an email!

Weekly Mashup #17

Weekly Mashup #17

The Synthetic Biology Mashup is a weekly review of articles and news related to synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. While we share most of this on our twitter feed, if you need to catch up on this week’s news just read ahead!

What you should Know if you are Planning to Invest in a Synthetic Biology Company

Following last week’s SynbioBeta blogpost by Jenny Rooke on the limits of investing in synthetic biology startups, this week an article by Jamie Bacher, founder and CEO of Pareto Biotechnologies, gives five advices for synthetic biology investors. In a nutshell, in addition to analyzing each company’s specific technical accomplishments, he recommends investors to look closely at the founding team members and their background, the history of the company, the current investors and their field of expertise, the business model and opportunities for commercial product development.

India Clearing Limited GM Crop Field Trials

India’s environment minister Veerappa Moily recently approved limited field trials for genetically modified crops. The crops include wheat, maize, cotton, castor, and rice. This approval allows those trials cleared last year by India’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to be conducted in states which will allow them. The previous minister had withheld approval, citing considerations by the Indian Supreme Court. It is now expected that the environmental and agricultural ministries will file an affidavit with the Court in support of these and further GM crop trials.

Opinions and News on the Possible Approval of Genetic Engineering in Humans

Last week the FDA held a public meeting to discuss the possibility of approving genetic engineering experiments in humans. This has received considerable press coverage, and in case you want to get more information on the subject, NBC news had an interesting article about it. On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK just published drafted regulations which are currently under consultation by the Department of Health to allow the technique currently being evaluated by the FDA to be used in Britain as early as the end of 2014. This sets up Britain to be potentially the first country in the world using this technique. Such a technique, though never before tested in humans, has great potential and could enable women with severe mitochondrial defects to deliver healthy children who would, even after a mitochondrial replacement, still carry as much genetic information from the mother as from the father.

Synthetic Biology in the News

Hypermogen, a company working on technology foresights, published a set of icons representing what in their opinion are the most interesting future trends. Amongst them is the synthetic biology icon, a goat’s head on a spider’s body…

Following up to previous articles on the possibilities of using publicly available genomic data for terrorist purposes, an article in The Conversation highlights the perceived lack of external regulation in synthetic biology.

That’s it for this week’s Synthetic Biology Mashup! A suggestion or a question? Shoot us an email!

Synbio MashUp #16

Synbio MashUp #16

The Synthetic Biology Mashup is a weekly review of articles and news related to synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. While we share most of this on our twitter feed, if you need to catch up on this week’s news just read ahead!

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation developing new RNAi technologies for crops

Tekmira is receiving $16.5 M in near-term payments from Monsanto as part of a collaborative project to develop RNA interference (RNAi) technologies for use in pest, virus, and weed control. This is one of the first major investments from a large corporation in a company developing RNAi technologies. Much hype has been generated around the potential therapeutical application of RNAi, which is a small strand of RNA that specifically targets and silences an individual gene. Tekmira Pharmaceuticals has been particularly successful in its RNAi technologies compared to other companies because it has developed an effective delivery vehicle for RNAi to cells: a lipid nanoparticle which encapsulates the RNAi. This lipid nanoparticle technology both enables more effective delivery and reduces the toxicity of the treatment. Such delivery vehicles have the potential for a wide variety of biological applications beyond crops. Tekmira Pharmaceutical is also applying their lipid nanoparticle RNAi encapsulation technology as a potential tumor-targeting cancer treatment, currently in stage 1/2 clinical trials.

FDA Planning to Discuss Genetic Engineering Experiments in Humans

For its next public meeting these upcoming Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th of February, the FDA has announced that it will discuss possible experiments in humans to create hybrid oocytes. These oocytes are made from nuclear DNA from a first women and the egg of another healthy woman alongside with its mitochondrial DNA for in vitro fertilisation. This is an attempt to address issues arising from women having oocytes with certain types of mitochondrial diseases which can lead to infertility or transmission of the disease. If approved these experiment, it would be the first time that such a genetic engineering approach would be used in humans.

MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center and Pfizer collaboration

This past Thursday, February 20th, MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center and Pfizer Inc., a large international pharmaceutical company, announced a three year research collaboration. The collaboration is meant to foster the use of the rapid advances within synthetic biology and improve the efficiency of the drug discovery and production. A particular focus of the collaboration will be on genome engineering methods to improve next-gen protein expression systems.

Why Aren’t More People Investing in Synthetic Biology Companies?

In a recent article published in the SynBioBeta blog, Jenny Rooke investigates what are the current challenges are in investing in synthetic biology companies as compared to the rest of the biotech world. She identifies four main reasons, (i) the transition from an academic lab to a company generating profit is not streamlined, (ii) the synthetic biology entrepreneurial community is relatively new, and business models have not yet passed the test of time, (iii) most of the existing companies tend to focus on broad technics or platform with less focus on specific possible markets, and finally (iv) the lack of transparency makes it difficult to identify market opportunities.

That’s it for this week’s Synthetic Biology Mashup! A suggestion or a question? Shoot us an email!

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