29 Nov 2009

Sugar. 20 Things You Didn't Know About

We eat it, we love it, and it may have been a chemical precursor to life on Earth.

1 The average American eats 61 pounds of refined sugar each year, including 25 pounds of candy. Halloween accounts for at least two pounds of that.

image 2 Trick: Sugar may give you wrinkles via a process called glycation, in which excess blood sugar binds to collagen in the skin, making it less elastic.

3 Or treat: Cutting back on sugar may help your skin retain its flexibility. So actually, no treats.

4 People in India have been crystallizing cane sugar for at least 2,000 years. When Alexander the Great’s companions arrived there, they marveled at the production of honey without bees.

5 In 1747 German chemist Andreas Marggraf discovered that the sugar in a sugar beet is identical to that in sugarcane. In 1802 the first beet-sugar refinery began operations, bringing cheap sweets to northern climes.


6 More than half the 8.4 million metric tons of sugar produced annually in the United States comes from beets.

7 Can you imagine eating 8 sugar cubes (8 spoons of sugar) at one sitting? You probably have. That’s a little less than what is contained in a coke or Pepsi (~ 300 ml).

8 Soft drinks with artificial sweeteners may actually help make you fat. In a Purdue University study, rats drinking liquids with artificial sweeteners consumed more calories overall than rats whose drinks were sweetened with sugar.

9 The artificial sweeteners saccharin and aspartame were found accidentally when lab workers doing research that had nothing to do with sweetening put a bit of the test compounds in their mouths and liked what they tasted.

10 What kind of researcher sticks an experiment in his mouth?

11 At least he had an excuse. The scientists who discovered sucralose (now sold as Splenda) were originally trying to create an insecticide. An assistant thought he had been instructed to “taste” a compound he’d only been asked to “test.”

12 A compound called lugduname is the sweetest compound known—more than 200,000 times as sweet as table sugar.

13 Sugars are molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The simplest include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Table sugar is crystallized sucrose, a fusion of one fructose and one glucose molecule.

14 Can’t escape them: Sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates, the most abundant type of organic molecules in living things.

15 Glycolaldehyde, an eight-atom sugar, has even been found in an interstellar gas cloud near the center of the Milky Way.

16 Glycolaldehyde can react with a three-carbon sugar to form ribose, the basis for both RNA and DNA, so the glycol­aldehyde found in deep space may be a chemical precursor to life on Earth.

17 That cloud also contains ethylene glycol, a sweet relative of glycol­aldehyde and the main ingredient in antifreeze. Either complex sugars can be synthesized between the stars or there is a truck stop at the end of the universe.

18 Sugar can help get you there to find out. Burn sucrose with a dose of corn syrup and saltpeter and you get “sugar propellant,” a popular amateur rocket fuel.

19 How do you spell relief? “Obecalp,” a sugar pill manufactured to FDA standards, is marketed as a treatment for children’s mild complaints. (Try reading the name backward.)

20 It’s not all mind games. The sugar glucosamine works as an immunosuppressant in mice, and xylitol (a sugar alcohol) can prevent ear infections in kids. Sweet!

Courtesy : Discover Magazine

15 Nov 2009

Bio-Degradable USB stick

Hong Kong-based Hoshino, released of what it's designated "the world's first bio-degradable USB disk."

The key is also shaped like an ear of corn, so you can acknowledge your own greenness, every time you go to retrieve information.



It is made of polylactide(PLA). PLA uses annually renewable plant resources (corn) as raw material, which is fermented and distillated to produce lactic acid.

Followed by the process of dehydration polymerization, high-temp depolymerization, refining and finally polymerization, lactic acid is then transformed to PLA. Its products can be degraded to carbon dioxide and water by microorganisms in the soil after use and do no harm to the environment.


Have any questions?

25 Oct 2009

Plant Grows at high Temperatures with help of Fungi/Virus

Let us talk about three new things I didn't know till now. Hope it will be informative or useful for your entrance exams.
1. Dichanthelium lanuginosum is grass plant known as Panic grass* and was able to survive intermittent high temperatures in geothermal soils (up to 65 °C.) of Yellowstone National Park, USA.
2. In 2007 it was found that the heat tolerance is conferred to the grass due to its association with an endophytic fungus, Curvularia protuberata.
3. "Thermal Tolerance" trait conferred by the endophytic fungus is actually due to a specific RNA virus onboard. This dsRNA virus is aptly named "Curvularia thermal tolerance virus" (CThTV). Infected fungal mycelia contain two viral dsRNA molecules: a 2.2 kb dsRNA molecule that encodes two ORFs related to viral replication and a 1.8 kb dsRNA molecule with two ORFs with no similarity to any protein of known function.
As we all know virus is pathogenic. CThTV is Symbiotic.
This is an example of a tritrophic interaction, as three organisms are interacting.
Panic Grass
Work is continuing to determine the mechanism by which the uncharacterized ORFs within the 1.8 dsRNA of CThTV confer the thermal tolerance in this fungal-plant mutualism.
*Panic grass, incidentally, has nothing to do with botanical phobias; instead, the name derives from the Latin panicum, referring to foxtail millet.

1 Oct 2009

Ready to Eat Rice without cooking !

Yes. Scientists of Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), developed new rice variant named "Aghaono Bora", a soft rice or komal chawl, takes 45 minutes if soaked in normal water and if the water is lukewarm, it is ready in 15 minutes.

However, the soft rice varieties grown across Assam and the North-East, are ready to eat after they are soaked in plain water. it is a low-yielding crop that grows only in a cool climate.

Aghaono Bora | Ready to Eat Rice

The Scientists from CRRI, one of the premier research institutes on grains in the world, developed a hybrid of traditional soft rice with a high yielding variety of regular rice, that could be grown in different climates across India.

"We wanted to see whether the same rice can be grown here and retain the same properties. We saw it behaves the same way. Simply soak it in water and the rice is ready to eat but the quality of water has to be clean and potable. The idea is to avoid any waterborne disease," said Tapan Kumar Adhya, director, CRRI.
“This rice variety, which comes under soft rice category, helps in saving fuel as it doesn’t require any boiling ,” said Tapan Kumar Adhya.

In Orissa where 'pakhal' or cooked rice fermented in water is a hot favorite, the soft rice is expected to be a hit. It's environment-friendly and will save a huge amount of fuel and time.

20 Sep 2009

Transparent Frog, First see-through frog

Professor Masayuki Sumida, Research Team @ Hiroshima University’s Institute for Amphibian Biology has created a  transparent frog whose internal organs are visible through its skin.

I can see you, and your intestine

The researchers say the see-through frogs can help in the study of diseases and in the development of medical treatments by allowing laboratory scientists to check the status of internal organs and blood vessels while the frogs are alive and without having to dissect them.

Translucent frog --

According to Sumida, the transparent frog is the result of breeding two specimens of Japanese brown frog (Rana japonica) that had a genetic mutation giving them pale skin. By selectively breeding their offspring, the researchers were able to create a frog that remains transparent for its entire life cycle.

Most of the world’s known transparent creatures live underwater, and transparent four-legged animals are extremely rare.

The researchers also say that by fusing the genes of fluorescent proteins to the frog’s genes, they can create frogs that glow. Glowing frogs can help scientists study specific “problem” genes by providing a real-time visual indication (i.e. the frogs glow) when those genes become active.

Professor Sumida says, “Transparent frogs will prove useful as laboratory animals because they make it easier and cheaper to observe the development and progress of cancer, the growth and aging of internal organs, and the effects of chemicals on organs.”

Very Interesting..............

13 Sep 2009

Buddha shaped Pears

Gao Xianzhang has managed to create what some would call the holiest fruits ever, pears shaped like Buddha.




Gao has been working on his pear-growing technique for six years and this season he managed to grow 10,000 Buddha-shaped baby pears. Each fruit is grown in an intricate Buddha mould and ends up looking like a juicy figurine. The ingenious farmer says the locals in his home village of Hexia, norther China, have been buying his Buddha pears as soon as he picks them from the trees. Most of them think they are cute and that they bring good luck.

Gao Xianzhang pears aren’t cheap, roughly $1.8 each, but their success in China convinced him to start exporting them into Europe.

May be you want read also Square Watermelons

29 Aug 2009

Square Watermelons! It's true.

Farmers in the southern Japanese town of Zentsuji have figured out how to grow their watermelons so they turn out square.



watermelon3 It's not a fad. The technique actually has practical applications. "The reason they're doing this in Japan is because of lack of space," said Samantha Winters of the National Watermelon Promotion Board in Orlando, Florida.

A fat, round watermelon can take up a lot of room in a refrigerator, and the usually round fruit often sits awkwardly on refrigerator shelves. But clever Japanese farmers have solved this dilemma by forcing their watermelons to grow into a square shape.

Farmers insert the melons into square, tempered glass cases while the fruit is still growing on the vine.

The square boxes are the exact dimensions of Japanese refrigerators, allowing full-grown watermelons to fit conveniently and precisely onto refrigerator shelves.

But cubic fruit comes with a price: Each square watermelon costs 10,000 yen, the equivalent of about $82. Regular watermelons in Japan cost from $15 to $25 each.

Japanese farmers have perfected the art of growing square watermelons, but they aren’t about to reveal their secret process. When a square watermelon sells for $82 who can blame them.



19 Jul 2009

Self-Irrigating Desert Plant Discovered

A desert plant has apparently figured out how to water itself.

Ecologists had been puzzling over the desert rhubarb for years: Instead of the tiny, spiky leaves found on most desert plants, this rare rhubarb boasts lush green leaves up to a meter wide.

Now scientists from the University of Haifa-Oranim in Israel have discovered that ridges in the plant’s giant leaves actually collect water and channel it down to the plant’s root system, harvesting up to 16 times more water than any other plant in the region.

“It is the first example of a self-irrigating plant,” said plant biologist Gidi Ne’eman, a co-author on the paper published in March in Naturwissenschaften, a German journal of ecology. “This is the only case we know, but in other places in the world there might be additional plants that use the same adaptions.”

The desert rhubarb grows in the mountainous deserts of Israel and Jordan, where there’s only about 75mm of rainfall each year. Even during the rainy season, the region’s light rainfalls often don’t penetrate the rocky soil of the desert. Plants with large leaves and a deep root system, like the desert rhubarb, typically can’t survive in such an arid climate.

But when the researchers measured the plant’s water absorption during a light rain, they discovered that water infiltrated the soil 10 times deeper around the desert rhubarb than in surrounding areas. Upon closer examination, scientists discovered deep grooves around the plant’s veins, which are coated in a waxy cuticle that helps channel water down to the root.

“Even in the slightest rains,” the researchers wrote, “the typical plant harvests more than 4,300 cubic centimeters of water per year and enjoys a water regime of about 427 millimeters per year, equivalent to the water supply in a Mediterranean climate.”

Some scientists say the desert rhubarb isn’t all that, however. “Many plants channel water to their base to be absorbed by the root,” Lindy Brigham, a plant ecologist from the University of Arizona, wrote in an email. “Just look at the way plant leaves are shaped and how they branch from the base in many cases.” The architecture of the desert rhubarb’s leaves is unusual, she said, but not necessarily the only example of this adaptation.


4 Jul 2009

IISc to extract oil from Diatoms, algae

Driving will soon be a pollution-friendly activity if a small team of scientists from India and Canada have their way. Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have collaborated with their counterparts in Canada to ensure that global warming becomes a thing of the past.

According to the scientists, the answer to a clean and sustainable energy production lies in the microscopic algae — diatoms.

Some geologists believe that a majority of the world’s crude oil originated from diatoms. “Diatoms are the lowest in the order of the food chain, but are known to have oil glands that can yield an effective amount of oil. They also act as carbon sequesters trapping in carbon and releasing oxygen. We hope that this could work as a replacement for conventional energy or gasoline paving the way for a clean fuel that can effectively work as a solution to tackle global warming,” said Dr T.V. Ramachandra at IISc.

The research, that will soon be published in an international journal, indicates that a solution to the impending crude oil scarcity exists. It offers solutions for a cost-effective renewable source of alternative energy and also helps stop the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to an extent. Diatoms can trap and store carbon, sending out emissions free of any pollutants.

The team that comprises IISc professors Durga Madhab Mahapatra, Karthick B. and Dr Ramachandra and Richard Gordon from the University of Manitoba in Canada have also proposed a new approach to sustainable energy that uses solar panels by incorporating altered diatoms that secrete oil products.


14 Jun 2009

Gene Protects Alcoholism

In an interesting finding, a study revealed that a gene variant detected among a tribe in Orissa has been protecting them from harmful effects of alcohol.

The study conducted by the department of anthropology at Utkal University here has showed that the Bondas — one the most primitive tribes of Orissa- are immune to the side effects of alcoholism.

Alcohol is an agent of cirrhosis of liver, toxic psychosis, gastritis, pancreatitis, cardiac myopathy and so on. But surprisingly none of these diseases are seen among the Bonda highlanders, who are addicted to different kinds alcoholic beverages.

The reason: presence of a gene variant ALDH2.

Jayant Kumar Nayak, a research scholar of Anthropological Survey of India, in association of with the Utkal University has conducted a study on Bondas to know whether they are genetically protected from alcoholism. On a proportionate random sampling, out of 25 villages, he selected nine for the study covering 714 households of 2,700 population. Genomic DNA was extracted from 110 unrelated adult Bondas by the ASI following ethical guidelines after taking their consents. Both ADH and ADLH2 genes, considered protecting variants for alcohol, were detected.

About Bonda People

31 May 2009

Curry leaves Fights Tooth Decay

The curry leaf tree (Murraya Koenigii spreng – a green leafy vegetable) is grown all over India and other countries for its aromatic leaves which are used daily as an ingredient in Indian cuisine.

The fresh curry leaves contain 2.6% volatile essential oils (containing sesquiterpenes and monoterpenes) and the essential oils in the curry leaves are sufficiently soluble in water.

They contain 21000mug total carotene, 7100mug beta carotene, 93.9mug total folic acid, 0.21mg riboflavin, 0.93mg iron, 830mg calcium, 57mg phosphorus and 0.20mg zinc per 100g.

The cold extract of curry leaves (10g of cut fresh curry leaves in 200ml of distilled water) has a pH of 6.3 to 6.4. (unpublished personal observations). Chlorophyll has been proposed as an anticariogenic agent and it also helps to reduce halitosis8.

We have observed that holding curry leaves in the mouth for 5 to 7 minutes is helpful in reducing halitosis and that the terpenes have been found to reduce airborne chemicals and bacteria.

In addition to the presence of EO, the curry leaves contain chlorophyll, beta carotene and folic acid, riboflavin, calcium and zinc and all these can act on the oral tissues and help in keeping up good oral health. Chewing 2 to 4 fresh curry leaves with 10 to 15mls water in the mouth, swishing for 5 to 7 minutes and rinsing the mouth out with water can be of help in keeping good oral hygiene and as the curry leaf is a green leafy vegetable it will be safe and cheap to use as mouthwash.


23 May 2009

Eat Indian curry to lose weight

Eating lots of curry may help you lose weight, research suggests.

Scientists believe that haldi, or turmeric, which is used in most Indian meals, has an active ingredient that can help fight obesity.

A meal that includes haldi will lead to less weight gain than one without the yellow powder.

This is because haldi contains a plant-based chemical called curcumin which suppresses the growth of fat tissue in mice and human cell cultures, according to a study by Tufts University in Boston, published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Curcumin is also easily absorbed by the body, the researchers said, after experiments on mice.

"Weight gain is the result of the growth and expansion of fat tissue, which cannot happen unless new blood vessels form, a process known as angiogenesis," said senior study author Mohsen Meydani of the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts.

"Based on our data, curcumin appears to suppress angiogenic activity in the fat tissue of mice fed high fat diets," he said in a statement.

In particular, turmeric is effective when added to a high-fat meal, suggesting it could help fight obesity.

Researchers gave one set of mice high-fat diets and another set the same food with 500mg of curcumin added to each meal.

After 12 weeks, the mice which were fed curcumin weighed less than those which did not eat it.

The next step will be to perform clinical trials on humans, said the researchers.


16 May 2009

Soybeans Grow Where Nuclear Waste Glows

Photo: Soybeans growing near the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.

Soy crops are so tough they can flourish in the contaminated soil around Chernobyl and produce healthy offspring.

If scientists can understand how plants survive in ultra-hostile environments, it will help them engineer super hearty plants to withstand drought conditions or grow on marginal cropland.

“The fact that plants were able to adapt to the area of the world’s largest nuclear accident, is very encouraging,” says Martin Hajduch, a plant biotechnology expert at the Slovak Academy of Sciences and coauthor of the study in the Journal of Proteome Research. “So we were interested to know how plants can do such a job.”

Hajduch’s team built and harvested seeds from a garden near the village of Chistogalovka, which is roughly five kilometers from the ruined nuclear power plant. They analyzed the seeds with all sorts of modern proteomics tricks, going a step beyond the narrowly-focused studies that other scientists have done.

Biologists have been studying the effects of radiation on plants for decades, and they have identified a handful of proteins that seem to protect crops from genetic damage, but this is the first time that anyone has taken a snapshot of everything that’s going on inside of Chernobyl-grown vegetables.

The Slovak scientists started by freezing each seed with liquid nitrogen and crushing it to extract a mix of proteins. Then they sorted those molecules in an electrified block of gel, and identified each one with a mass spectrometer. As a reference, they did the same thing to seeds from a garden 100 kilometers from the disaster area.

Hajduch learned that the contaminated plants make a lot of changes to defend themselves, adjusting the levels of dozens of proteins that also guard against disease, heavy metals, and salt. All of that makes sense, but the biggest difference between plants from the wasteland and the controls was somewhat surprising. The levels of hundreds of proteins that are known for their ability to shuttle other proteins around — or lock them up in storage — had been lowered.

As a result of those adjustments, the levels of Cesium-137 in the beans was remarkably low. The plants are healthy and fertile, but definitely not safe to eat. Hajduch says that he will complete a study of their progeny soon, but he wouldn’t want to make them into tofu.


17 Apr 2009

Biotech crops' global value reaches $7.5 billion

The global market value of biotechnology crops reached $7.5 billion in 2008, up from $6.9 billion in 2007.

Last year’s $7.5 billion represented 14 percent Dr. Clive James, founder and current board chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

New York (USA)-based ISAAA is a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing knowledge and crop biotechnology applications.

The network includes the Southeast Asia Center based in Los Baños, Laguna, headed by Dr. Randy Hautea, currently ISAAA global coordinator and former director of the University of the Philippines Los Baños-Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB).

Dr. James’ report, titled “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008”, was presented by Dr. Hautea and former UP president Dr. Emil Q. Javier at a media forum last Feb. 12 at the Richmonde Hotel in Pasig City.

In his report, the Welsh-born research administrator projected that the global value of the biotech crop market for 2009 is approximately $8.3 billion.

Of the genetically modified (GM) crops produced in 2008, biotech maize constituted the biggest chunk of the global biotech market – $3.6 billion or 48 percent.

It was followed by soybean, $2.8 billion (37 percent); cotton, $0.9 billion (12 percent); and canola, $0.2 billion (three percent).

The other biotech crops raised in 2008 in 25 countries were papaya, squash, tomato, sweet pepper, alfalfa, poplar, petunia, carnation, and sugar beet.


16 Apr 2009

Biotechnology boom raises security fears

As rapid advances in biotechnology make it easier to develop and produce deadly organisms, experts are calling for better industry oversight to stop that progress benefiting criminals and terrorists.

Hundreds of research laboratories are springing up around the world as costs and development times tumble and scientists compete to create products with commercial potential for medicine or food production.

In 2002 it took five years to develop the genomic sequence of a polio virus. Three years later it took a week for a team the same size to do the same on a virus of similar length.

Such rapid progress has left policymakers wondering how to ensure security in a disparate, thinly regulated industry -- a concern that surfaced at a weekend conference in Morocco where experts considered the threat of pandemics and major biological incidents in the Middle East and North Africa.

"There are so many advances in bacteriology and gene sequencing leading to the possibility of designing genes -- that is what is driving the concern," said Tim Trevan of the International Council for the Life Sciences (ICLS).

Organisms could be genetically manipulated to defeat vaccines, mild diseases could be turned into deadly ones and lethal viruses and bacteria might be created from scratch.

Equipment such as micro-reactors, flow reactors and disposable reactors to produce useable volumes of complex molecules were not even available 10 years ago.

"You want something very infectious if you aim to bring down society," said Trevan. "Whether you kill people or incapacitate them it doesn't really matter, as long as there is a major effect. This could all theoretically be engineered genetically."


Potentially dangerous organisms tend to be harder to spot at the development stage than nuclear materials.

"You are talking about people and knowledge -- you're not going to just spring into a laboratory and find incriminating material," said ICLS President Terence Taylor.

He pointed to documents recovered from al Qaeda which had showed the group was considering developing biological weapons.

"If there is a serious, catastrophic incident involving the use of biotechnology, that will hold up the science like Chernobyl did with nuclear," said Taylor. "That's why we need to worry now."

Nuclear technology remains mostly in the hands of governments and heavily regulated state enterprises. In contrast, advanced biotechnology is already seeping into the consumer mainstream.

Taylor said parts of the private sector had taken a lead in building safeguards. One industry body, the International Association for Synthetic Biology, had developed software to allow its members to screen their customers.

Conference delegates called for better regulation and more cross-border collaboration to detect and ward off biological threats and share best practices.

Attacks involving anthrax-laced letters in the United States in 2001 killed five people, including two U.S. Postal Service workers from a facility in Washington, D.C., and made 13 sick. Thousands were given antibiotics to prevent disease.

In 1995, Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult killed 12 people in a Sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system.

"The thinking is out there and it is naive to assume some people are not exploiting available technology," said Taylor.


3 Mar 2009

India likely to launch bio-tech rice by 2011-12

Biotech rice is likely to be launched in India by 2011-12, after it gets all the required clearance, Sawapan Datta professor Calcutta University said today.

“After all the required processes and approvals, it is estimated that bio-tech enhanced rice could be launched in India by 2011-22,” Datta told reporters.

He said, with India’s population estimated to reach 1.3 billion by 2017, the government has estimated a 14 million tonnes shortage of the food grain.

Therefore, with low yield and rising demand it is essential to increase rice production, which is the second most consumed cereal grain, after maize, Datta said.

“Biotech enhanced rice could double farmer yields and can save traditional low yielding varieties from extinction by converting taller varieties into shorter heights with multiple tillers resulting in higher yields,” he said.

According to Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack, head plant improvement G J N Rao, “Bio-tech rice can enhance productivity and help protect the environment by reducing the use of chemical pesticides.”

CRRI is working on developing nutritionally enhanced rice for high protein and high-iron to help address the problem of malnutrition among women and children.


2 Mar 2009

Biotech firm eyes algae as growth area

The simple marine organism that causes pond scum will someday be used to make people healthier.

A research team at Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd. in Dartmouth has found algae along the coast of Nova Scotia capable of providing essential nutrients in quantities sufficient to support commercialization.

Chief executive officer Robert Orr said Friday the fish-oil manufacturer is keeping the lid on most details for competitive reasons.

"There is a lot of research underway in this field around the world. We’ve made significant progress here in Nova Scotia but haven’t been overly public about it," he said.

Ocean Nutrition is preparing a fish-powder plant worth an estimated $23 million in Burnside Park. It is expected to open in a few months, but production will be linked to the health of the food industry."We will see more new food products launched as the economy improves," said Mr. Orr.

When the plant opens, operations will focus on turning oil from anchovies and sardines into fish oil and an omega-3 powder to be used as nutritional supplements to food.

The capacity to produce nutrients would increase significantly if a micro-fermentation process could be used to culture algae.

"We would be going directly to the same algae consumed by the fish to obtain omega-3 fatty acids and other nutritional compounds," Mr. Orr said.

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and improved brain function.

Extracting essential nutrients from fish like anchovies or sardines is a costly process, and the ability to use large volumes of marine algae as a raw product has huge implications for this emerging industry.

Mr. Orr said there is a large body of evidence supporting the health benefits of nutrients found in high proportions in fish, and North Americans eat very little fish, so the future of the industry looks good.

"Omega-3 is to the cells what calcium is to the bones," he said.


1 Mar 2009

India fourth largest adopter of biotech crop in the world

India became the fourth largest adopter of biotech crop in the world, displacing Canada, in 2008 and planting Bt cotton on 7.6 million hectares (82% of the total cotton are in the country), according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). This was almost a million and half hectares over planted area in 2007 (6.2 m ha, equivalent to 66% of the total cotton area in the country).A record five million small and resource-poor farmers planted Bt cotton in 2008, significantly up from only 3.8 m farmers in 2007, the ISAAA said.

Worldwide, by the end of the second decade of commercialization in 2015, ISAAA predicts that four billion accumulated acres of biotech crops would have been planted. Further, 200 million hectares of biotech crops annually will be planted in a total of 40 countries. In 2008, three new countries and 1.3 million new farmers adopted biotech crops and planted an additional 10.7 m ha, the Association, which has been tracking global biotech crop adoption trends since 1996, said.

Last year, 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries planted 125 million ha of biote4ch crops, leading to the sixth largest growth spurt in 13 years of reporting . Infact, the two billionth cumulative acre of biotech crops was also planted in 2008, just three years after the first billionth acre was planted. That milestone, though, took a whole decade to be reached.

Cotton area in India comprises about 21% of the total are in the world and roughly 13% of the total cotton output in the world. At the national level, cotton production increased from 15.8 million bales in 2001-02 to 32.2 million bales in 2008-09, more than doubling cotton production in the short span of seven years. The ISAAA’s annual brief on Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM Crops 2008 maintained that for the seven year period 2002-08, there was a 150-fold increase in Bt cotton in India.

That is four times the 74-fld increase for global biotech crops during the 13 period from 1996-2008.Accordign to the report, averge cotton yields following adoption of biotech increased from only 308 kg/ha in 2002 to 591 kg/ha in 2008, registering a 50% increase in yield. In tandem, cotton exports increased from 0.05 million bales in 2001-02 to an estimated 8.5 million bales in 2007-08. Also, the number of biotech events increased from one Event in 2002 to 4 Events in 2007 and t o five Events in 2008. There were 274 location-specific Bt cotton hybrids in 2008 compared to only 131 in 2007 and only three in 2002. Accordign to the ISAAA brief, there has been substantial increase in the approval of double genes Bt cotton hybrids to delay insect-pest resistance. From only 21 BG II hybrids in 2007, the number went up to 94 BG II hybrids in 2008.

“In India, growers increased income by upt to $250 (Rs 10,000) or more per hectare, increasing farmer incomes nationally by $3.2 billion in the period 2002 to 2007 and $2 billion in 2007 alone,” the ISAAA brief has claimed. Adding to the increasing adoption of biotech crop was the apex court’s decision in 2008 to lift restrictions on all field trials and commercial releases such crops. During the year, India also drafted a plan to establish a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) and adopted a new set of guidelines for GE (genetically engineered) plants and foods, even as the GEAC or the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee commercially released publicly bred Bt cotton varieties. India deregulated approved GM cottone Evetns and joined the OECD seed certification schemes.

Significantly, it was also the year when Mahyco received experimental seed production approval for its Bt Brinjal hybrids. For all that it was one of the leading, and earliest, developing countries to adopt biotech crops, India has yet to approve commercialsiation of any biotech food crop although Bt soyabean and Bt Maize are being cultivated by other countries for a decade or more now. In the face of criticism on the safety aspects of biotech crop in the country, commercial biotech crops have so far attracted less hue and cry in the second, and food safety centric, decade of worldwide GM (genetically modified) crop adoption. Biotechnology research in food crops in the country, however, are on for a wide variety of food crops such as banana, cabbage, acstor, cauliflower, corn, gorundnut, mustard, okra, onion, papaya, potato, rice and tomato.

“Future growth prospects for biotech crops are encouraging,” chairman and founder of ISAAA and author of the report Clive James said here, adding “The positive experiences int ehse new regional footholds in the south, north and west Africa will help lead the way for neighbouring countries to learn by example. Additionally, political leaders globally are increasingly viewing biotech enhanced crops as a key part of the solution to critical social issues of food security and sustainability.”

Africa is considered the “final frontier” for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need for increased crop output and the most number of people to gain from it. Biotech famrming began in the African nations of Egypt and Burkina Faso in 2008, when Egypt planted 700 ha of Bt Maize and Burkina Faos planted 8500 ha of Bt cotton, joining S Africa, which since 1998 has adopted cotton, maize and soyabean biotech crops.

James said that increased political support from key regions such as the G-8 leadership (for the first time) to biotech crop, the EU and China had strengthened the acceptance of such crops in countries worldwide. “Biotech crops make two important contributions to global food security. First, they increase yields, which increase food avalabilityand supply. Second, they reduce production costs, which will also ultimately help reduce food prices. With 9.2 billion people to be fed by 2050, biotechnology plays a crucial role in helping to satistfy the growing demand.” As part of that goal, biotech is beginning to identify solutions to the growing challenges with drought being seen in sub Saharan Africa and Latin America, he said. Drought is the single largest constraint to increased productivity. For example, Argentina now faces a drought so severe that farmers have made a oss on their wheat crop. Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging reality with seeds exp ected to be commercialized in the USA by 2012 or sooner and in Africa, by 2017, the ISAAA founder-chairman said.

A new biotech crop, RR sugar beet, was first commercialised in the USA and Canada in 2008.

Energy Conservation Consciousness (ECC) Campaign is a step towards better Energy Habits. We can avoid wastages in work area by implementing effortless energy conservation tips to create a more sustainable and greener organization.


28 Feb 2009

Biotech excited about hair-growth results

A subject in the early-stage clinical trial of hair regrowth therapy ReGenica before treatment (left) and after 12 weeks (right).

If your forehead is more like a fivehead, or you've started to see a lot more scalp at the crown of your head, the tiny San Diego biotechnology company Histogen has some promising news.

The company today is unveiling preliminary results from an early-stage clinical trial that showed its experimental hair regrowth therapy, ReGenica, increased new hair growth and the thickness of existing hair in men after 12 weeks.

“These results appear to be phenomenal, although this trial is still in the very early stages,” said Los Angeles-based hair transplant specialist Dr. Craig Ziering.

“Wimpy hairs became thicker, which is pretty significant to the patient because even if you cannot increase the numbers of hairs, if you increase the diameter, you increase the volume. And preliminary hair counts show there was an increase in new hair of 15 to 20 percent in some patients,” said Ziering, a paid member of the company's scientific advisory board.

ReGenica is made of a cocktail of proteins that are present in the early-stage embryo and help direct stem cells to become either hair, bone or blood, said Histogen Chief Executive Gail Naughton.

Although scientists have known about the role these proteins play, Histogen's aha moment was figuring out how to create them in a lab, said Naughton, who is also dean of San Diego State University's School of Business Administration.

Fibroblasts, early-stage stem cells that form connective tissue, are grown in the simulated low-oxygen and free-floating, low-gravity conditions of the embryo, Naughton said. The important Wnt proteins and growth factors then build up in that environment, she said.

The 18-person company, which opened in 2007, conducted research showing ReGenica stimulated hair growth in animals. It started its Phase 1 human trial to show the therapy was safe; no dangerous side effects were experienced, Ziering said.

Histogen was also hoping the trial would show ReGenica's effectiveness, which might give the company the buzz it needs to raise funding, build a manufacturing facility and then begin Phase 2 trials, Naughton said.

The Phase 1 trial involves 25 men ages 18 to 45 who have varying stages of male-pattern baldness.

Each of the balding spots was mapped into quadrants. Each quadrant received an injection of either the drug or a placebo. Some of the quadrants were also treated with microdermabrasion or lasers as well as the drug, to test previous medical theory that a wound helps to stimulate stem cells in the skin to regenerate hair follicles.

At 12 weeks, penny-size pieces of scalp were biopsied to observe the changes. Histogen staff even counted the follicles and hairs sprouting out of them. Once the trial is completed, an independent data-monitoring board will review the results after five months and make an assessment.

More than 50 million men in the United States alone suffer from hair loss, and about 35 million women are dealing with the problem, said Ziering, who has been treating patients for hair loss for 18 years.

“There's a tremendous need for something that can help people with their hair loss because there are many ramifications on people's lives,” Ziering said.

Histogen's product shows promise to do multiple things, including slowing the progressive nature of hair loss, increasing the thickness of the follicles and actually getting new follicles to grow, the physician said.

Histogen also sees ReGenica as a means toward lifesaving therapies that trigger stem cells to generate new tissue in damaged heart muscle and new neurons in damaged spinal cords, Naughton said.

“We wanted to go after a market where there is really an unmet need and a large patient population, which could help us generate the cash flow to fund longer-term projects that would be more of a regulatory and reimbursement hurdle,” she said.


27 Feb 2009

Biotech rice may be in the market by 2010

BIOTECH ricethe insect resistant variety and Golden Rice—will lead the new genetically modified crops for commercial use in the second wave (2006 to 2015) of market availability, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA).

Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA global coordinator and its SEAsiaCenter director, told reporters that Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)-resistant rice from China “may be available within 24 months,” or between now and 2010, and Golden Rice by 2012.

Hautea made the disclosure last week at the press conference on the global launching of the 2008 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM (Genetically Modified) Crops report authored by Dr. Clive James, founder and chairman of ISAAA board of directors.

Bt rice is “extensively field tested in China and awaiting approval by the Chinese regulatory authorities” for commercialization, the report said.

Golden Rice—or genetically biofortified rice with beta carotene that produces vitamin A—is being field-tested at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Laguna. Its adoption for the Philippines is being done by the Philippine Rice Research Institute with two other traits incorporated in the rice—tungro virus and bacterial blight resistance.

The ISAAA report recognized biotech rice as “the most important of the new biotech crops that are now ready for adoption.”

This development is of great significance because rice is the most important food crop in the world, especially for the poor, aside from answering the current food security problem, James said.

“[More than] 90 percent of rice is grown and consumed in Asia by some of the poorest people in the world—the 250-million Asian households whose resource-poor rice farmers cultivate on average a meager half a hectare of rice,” the ISAAA report said.

Bt eggplant may be available as the first biotech-food crop in India within the next 12 months, the ISAAA report said. India is the fourth-largest producer of biotech crops with GM cotton planted in 7.6 million hectares.

Other crops that are expected to be available in the market before 2015 are potatoes with pest and/or disease resistance and modified quality for industrial use; sugar cane with quality and agronomic traits; and disease-resistant bananas.

Biotech vegetable crops—such as tomato, broccoli, cabbage and okra—that would require reduced amount of insecticides are being developed, along with propoor biotech cassava, sweet potato, pulses and ground nut, the report said.

Hautea noted the significance of 2015 as the end of the second decade when new biotech crops are available, because it is the target year under the Millennium Development Goals when a secure supply of affordable food is ensured and poverty and hunger have been reduced by 50 percent.

James said in the report that 2 billion acres or 800 million hectares were planted to biotech crops from 1996 to 2008, and that 13.3-million farmers in 25 countries planted biotech crops in 125 million hectares last year.

Among the notable developments, the report said, was the adoption of biotech crops in the African countries of Egypt (700 hectares of Bt corn) and Burkina Faso (8,500 hectares of Bt cotton), joining South Africa in biotech farming which, since 1998, has planted biotech cotton, corn and soybean.

“...Africa is considered the ‘final frontier’ for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need and most to gain,” ISAAA said.

In the Philippines, 200,000 small farmers planted about 350,000 hectares of Bt corn farms in 2008.

A socioeconomic impact study cited by ISAAA said that small farmers in the Philippines earn an additional income of P7,482 a hectare in the dry season and P7,080 in the wet season from Bt corn in crop year 2003-2004.

Multiawarded biotech corn farmer Lydia Lapastora of Isabela province said in the same media briefing she netted P11,021 a hectare from planting GM corn compared with the traditional varieties.

Bt corn is the only transgenic crop commercially planted in the Philippines. However, 46 other products with GM traits, such as soya and canola, are allowed to be imported into the country, said Dr. Emil Javier, president of the National Academy of Science and Technology, in the same briefing.

Javier said in a speech that in order for the Philippines to hasten the development of biotech crops, it should “sharpen [its] focus” on transgenic traits already commercialized by other countries and apply them in local crops so that it could “reap the full benefits of plant biotechnology with the resources and opportunities at hand.”

He cited as example the development of Bt eggplant, and ring-spot virus-resistant papaya and delayed-ripening papaya in the country.

“We must put in more resources and speed up and scale up their testing and commercialization,” he urged.

He also raised the need for more lawyers and technical people with “business savvy” that would sort out the legal and financial applications of biotech technologies that could be applied in the country.

He said almost all of the country’s agribiotech research and development experts are in public hands but they do not have this kind of expertise in house.

“We must explore new ways of sourcing these expertise from the private sector to free our scientists from these roles they have no aptitude for, in the first place. We need lawyers and ‘techies’ to negotiate with foreign technology owners as well as with domestic private investors who will put up the capital and manage the enterprise,” Javier said.

Besides the 25 countries growing biotech crops, Hautea said, 30 countries are not growing but importing such products, and three to four countries “unofficially” (not legally sanctioned by their governments) grow GM crops.

The countries planting biotech crops are (according to hectarage): United States covering 62.5 million hectares with soybean, corn, cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa and sugar beet; Argentina, 21 million (soybean, corn and cotton); Brazil, 15.8 million (soybean, corn and cotton); India, 7.6 million (cotton); Canada, 7.6 million (canola, corn, soybean and sugar beet); China, 3.8 million (cotton, tomato, poplar, petunia, papaya and sweet pepper); Paraguay, 2.7 million (soybean); South Africa, 1.8 million (corn, soybean and cotton); Uruguay, 700,000 (soybean and corn); Bolivia, 600,000 (soybean); Philippines, 400,000 (corn); Australia, 200,000 (cotton, canola and carnation); Mexico, 100,000 (cotton, soybean); Spain, 100,000 (corn);

Those planting biotech crops in less than 100,000 hectares are Chile with corn, soybean and canola; Colombia (cotton and carnation); Honduras (corn); Burkina Faso (cotton); and Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Egypt with GM corn.

By 2015, the ISAAA projection is that from the current 25 countries 40 more will plant biotech crops with 20 million or more farmers involved in about 200 million hectares.


26 Feb 2009

Biotechnology's potential barely exploited

The promising potential of biotechnology remains largely unused, especially in such crucial areas as healthcare and production of environmentally friendly fuels, scientists said.

The experts gathered here at an annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science predicted that biotechnology was likely to experience a boom in coming years.

"What you have seen over the last 35 years of biotech are tremendous applications, immediate applications of biotech starting with recombinant therapeutics all the way through," said Drew Endy, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University.

He said the phenomenon can be explained by the fact that no one thus far has even "scratched the surface" of the promising science.

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But Endy argued that science was moving forward fast. In only six years, he said, the gene sequencing project went from reading a bacteria genome to reading a human genome.

Last year, researchers at the Venter Institute built a bacteria genome from scratch, he noted.

"I bet we will be able to construct a human chromosome, and the yeast genome," Endy said, offering a six-year forecast.

"It sounds a little bit crazy because it's an exponential improvement in the tools."

He said there were lots of opportunities to take those tools forward.

"We are advocating now a national initiative in synthetic biology that would include in part a route map for getting better in building genetic material, constructing DNA from scratch and assembling it into genes and genomes," the scientist pointed out.

Jay Keasling, professor of biochemical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, said his project was using a microbe in order to produce a drug while significantly reducing its cost.

"We anticipate in one or two years that the optimization process will be completed and that production of the drug will commence and have it in the hands of people in Africa shortly thereafter," Keasling said.

Meanwhile, Christina Smolke, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University spoke about her efforts to design molecules that go into the cell and analyse the cellular state before delivering a therapeutic effect.

"Our goal is to make more effective therapies by taking advantage of the natural capabilities of our immune system and introducing slight modifications in cases where it is not doing what we would like it to do," she said.

Smolke said she hoped to translate her technologies into intelligent cellular therapeutics for glioma cancer patients in the next five years.

"That's a very optimistic view... but so far things are moving quickly," she pointed out.


14 Feb 2009

Despite slow economy, biotech industry is booming

Despite our economic slowdown, biotech is booming led by Silicon Valley companies giving a big boost to both their patients and their investors.

At the end of 2008, MAP Pharmaceuticals was struggling with a stock price around 2 dollars a share.

Then, lightning struck...twice.

First, MAP made progress on a new way to treat migraine headaches. Then, it signed a billion dollar deal with Pharma giant Astra-Zeneca to co-develop a drug to fight childhood asthma.

Now, the Silicon Valley biotech company is a genuine up and comer, money in the bank, stock price up about 500 percent.

And it's hiring.

"We're taking medicines that are well-established, and trying to make them better," said MAP Pharma CEO Tim Nelson.

Nelson's company is poised for growth, but it's far from alone.

His Silicon Valley biotech neighbors like Varian Systems, which makes this device to fight cancerous tumors and Gilead Sciences, battling aids have rewarded both patients and investors lately bucking the recession, and growing by the day.

"The aging of the population, the need for medical care, and a lot of real good science by a lot of smart people can hopefully provide for better outcomes for all of us," said Nelson.

For MAP, the recent stream of success means more attention, better recruiting, and a way to shake things up for millions of potential patients.

"Asthma and migraine are significant underserved medical needs. So it's a focus of trying to find an underserved medical need, and seeing if we can provide better medicine," Nelson said.

Fighting through the recession with companies like MAP showing the way.

Since the therapies are still in development, it's too early to even guess when they'll be on the market.

Fresh from the farm, a biotech 'milestone'

A Framingham biotech company yesterday became the first to win federal approval to manufacture a drug by using genetically modified animals, an approach that could eventually be used to produce many drugs using farm animals.

The US Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved GTC Biotherapeutics Inc.'s ATryn, an anticlotting drug made using genetically modified goats that live on a farm in Charlton. GTC engineered the herd to secrete a special therapeutic protein in their milk.

"It's really a milestone event," said Eric Overstrom, chairman of biology and biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who collaborated with GTC on some of its early research using goats. "This adds to the toolbox for the pharmaceutical industry."

Though ATryn is likely to have limited marketing potential because it would serve a relatively small pool of patients, the drug's approval could clear the way to produce many more drugs with genetically modified animals, an approach nicknamed "pharming."

European regulators approved the drug - and the novel production technique - in 2006.

In addition to goats, Overstrom said, drug companies could potentially use other animals, such as cows or rabbits, to produce drugs in their milk, blood, or even urine. Overstrom said animals could be particularly helpful in cultivating enzymes and other large molecules that are more difficult to produce using bacteria or individual cells.

Still, some activists are wary about the use of genetically engineered animals. The Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit group, complained that the animals could pose unforeseen health and environmental risks.

"The creation of GE animals is a very slippery slope," Jaydee Hanson, the center's policy analyst on cloning and genetics, said in a statement. "All it takes is one mating between an escaped specimen and a natural animal to set off a chain of events that could lead to contamination or extinction."

Some investors are also uncertain how much GTC will benefit from its achievement. The company's stock closed at 70 cents yesterday, down 12 cents, far from its peak of more than $44 per share in early 2000.

Thomas Newberry, GTC's vice president of corporate communications, acknowledged the drug's revenue potential is modest. And like many small biotech companies, Newberry said the firm only has a limited amount of cash, which could cause some investors to worry about its future.

But he said GTC's technology could eventually produce billions of dollars in revenue.

"It's still tough times for development-stage companies," Newberry said. "But the upper bounds for the company are virtually limitless."


6 Feb 2009

Next Biotech Opportunity Could Be in Hospital Acquired Infections

Hospital acquired infections (HAI) are exacting a significant toll on human life, ranking among the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. With an estimated 5%-10% hospital patients acquiring an infection, about two million cases each year and about 90,000 deaths, there is a huge associated financial burden which a new report from Kalorama Information, "Nosocomial Infections: Market Assessment for Diagnostics and Therapeutics," estimates at between $4.5 billion and $5.78 billion annually.

Though some progress has been made in combating HAIs, more and more infections are proving resistant to antibiotics that are currently on the market. Another threat is beginning to appear in the form of global bugs that are hitching a ride on the backs of travelers. Bugs such as hepatitis C, the West Nile Virus, multi-drug resistant TB and yellow fever could be the next pandemic with the ability to severely cripple our healthcare system.

Just as infections can enter the hospital environment from abroad, so they can leave the hospital and enter our communities, often after swapping gene components with other bacteria and becoming even more drug resistant. For example, MRSA is increasingly present in schools and sports teams.

One thing is clear -- there is a strong need for new treatments to combat HAIs. But where will they come from? In 2007, the FDA approved 74 new drugs, of which only two were antibiotics. Also, of over 2,700 compounds currently in development, only about 50 are being developed as bacterial antibiotics.

"HAIs, especially the foreign bugs, are a considerable problem and the healthcare community needs help," said Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama Information. "Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry has practically abandoned developing treatments. It will fall to the biotechnology community, and biotech companies have a market opportunity here that could provide them a major revenue stream."

Kalorama Information's new report "Nosocomial Infections: Market Assessment for Diagnostics and Therapeutics," focuses primarily on the more common bacterial infections, with some mention of viral infections. The report discusses the diagnostic and therapeutic technologies that are currently available and projects trends in these product areas. For further information visit: www.kaloramainformation.com/redirect.asp?progid=66469&productid=2065254

About Kalorama Information

Kalorama Information supplies the latest in independent market research in the life sciences, as well as a full range of custom research services. We routinely assist the media with healthcare topics.

30 Jan 2009

Is there any sector hotter than biotechnology today?

The number of biotech companies in Canada has soared more than 75% in the past 20 years, and they are spread out across the country. In fact, Canada has become a training ground for leaders, exporting talent to the rest of the world. What's more, it leads the world in the opportunities available to women.

Here are two women on top of their game:

Dr. Kathleen Pritchard, senior scientist in the Division of Medical Oncology and professor at the University of Toronto and clinical director of the Ontario Clinical Oncology group.

Ms. Pritchard credits her career in health sciences to her home town.

She grew up in Deep River, Ontario a stone's throw from Chalk River, home to Atomic Energy Research. Dr. Pritchard describes it fondly as being "in the middle of nowhere with between 2,000 and 5,000 people and had more PhDs per square inch than anywhere in the universe."

She's only half kidding. "There were lots of people who walked down the street thinking so hard they ran into telephone polls. We regarded them as eccentric scientists."

While neither of her parents were scientists, Dr. Pritchard says she and her friends were introduced to science by the time they could walk.

"Science was everywhere; particularly physics. We were all told science was the most interesting thing to do. I had a high school graduating class of 33 kids and seven of them enrolled in nuclear physics."

That was in 1964. Dr. Pritchard went on to honors science at Queens University before moving on to medicine. "I like working with patients and applying new treatments but I was also very interested in how you proved things."

It was in a third-year autopsy conference where she had to do an autopsy on a patient whose breast cancer had recurred after 15 years that she became interested in the disease.

Since then, Dr. Pritchard has gone on to play a key role in clinical breast cancer research and has advanced the standard of care for breast cancer patients worldwide.

"Breast cancer has turned into a disease with all kinds of targeted therapy and I'm interested in going into big clinical trials and picking out either retrospectively or by doing special studies in advance the groups of patients that will benefit most from therapy. That's a lot of what I do now," she says.

"I fell backwards into medicine but it was perfect for me because it's very practical and yet there is a lot of science. Even when you see patients, you can observe something that leads you to go back and ask a question and talk to scientists or pathologists and say 'how can we study this better?' "

Lyndal Walker, head of the Canadian commercialization organization for Abraxis Bioscience.

Ms. Walker's father steered her toward a career in nursing 20 years ago in Australia. A move to Canada, and the realization she was bored with her work led her to the University of Windsor where she took a degree in science, knowing she would pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

"I was ready for a career change, and I wanted to set myself up for a career that would allow me to take a leadership role," says Ms. Walker.

"I was a prefect at my school. I was that personality that wanted to step up to the plate and so I targeted a career in the pharmaceutical industry. I started in a very junior level, but I was willing to take an opportunity and work hard."

Today, as head of the Canadian commercialization organization for Abraxis Bioscience Ms. Walker's role takes her around the globe to open up new markets for the company.

"We are providing a practice change drug in the treatment of breast cancer," Ms. Walker says.

"We launched the product 18 months ago. Within 12 months of having the drug approved in Canada we've had it reimbursed. We are getting the word out and explaining how it works, that's part of the biotech process. You are educating people about the new technology and what the impact is."

"I still wake up everyday loving what I do," Ms. Walker says. "The biotech industry is a very fast paced, evolving sometimes volatile business but you learn so much about yourself, about people and the process. It's a very exciting place to be. I don't think people should be fearful of it. It is a growing market."


28 Jan 2009

Korea can be a leader of global biotech industry'

Health care will change dramatically over the next 10 years, from treating the sick to utilizing a kind of digital health care system that prevents possible diseases, a global biotech investor said.

"In 2020, we are going to live in a blackberry centric, a kind of digital health care world," said Steven Burrill, head of Burrill & Company, a San Francisco-based life sciences merchant bank.

"As you walk into a store, you put some blood or urine or some biological sample onto a chip ... And as you come out from the store they will say that you should take medicine or you've got breast cancer or diabetes.

"So we are going to move healthcare from treating the sick to plugging you into a system that treats (your health) well and preemptively," Burrill said. "We are going to have a lot of data streaming in telling us what is going on about your health."

The transformation of health care can happen, he said, by applying the idea to existing technology. And in this respect, Korea, a leader in electronics, information technology and software, will have opportunities to lead in the biotech industry, he said.

"Koreans have opportunities to be a leader of that. Nobody is the leader of that today," he said.

The CEO was in Seoul on Monday to "seek business opportunities" here.

Burrill has been involved in the biotechnology industry for 40 years and is one of its most influential figures. His company is the world's third largest bio-fund management firm and manages an estimated $1 billion in financial resources.

The company previously invested in state-sponsored biotech funds in the United States and Malaysia. Burrill was named one of the world's top 50 visionaries by the journal Scientific American in 2002.

He met Vice Knowledge Economy Minister Rim Che-min and expressed his interest in contributing to a "new growth engine fund" proposed by the government.

The purpose of the fund would be to support businesses involved in cutting-edge technologies and sustaining the country's future growth, the ministry said.

On Jan. 13, the Korean government announced that it will support the development of 17 future-oriented growth businesses, including biotechnology companies, by injecting more than 13.6 trillion won into the fund. It hopes to attract up to 90.5 trillion won worth of investments from the private sector. To lure private investment, the ministry will establish a 250 billion won fund for new growth engines this year, with the total to expand to 3 trillion won by 2013.

The health care transformation has the potential to solve the problem of dramatically increasing costs and the limited amount of health care resources, Burrill said.

"Koreans spent 6 percent of their GDP on healthcare. In the next seven years, health care in the U.S. will cost $2 trillion to $4 trillion," he said.

Health care systems around the world must change because their current approach may lead to bankruptcy, the CEO said.

"And so as from investors' view, there will be an exciting opportunity to not only develop the technology but to bring in technology from elsewhere in the world here to Korea and to be in this kind of the 21 century medicine world," he added.


26 Jan 2009

College launches program to train people for biotech jobs

Barry felt a special bond with the room full of strangers whom she was addressing.

Like them, she knows what it means to change careers.

“I was once where you’re sitting right now,” Ms. Barry said at a recent orientation for 19 students who will participate in a new 15-week program to train people for jobs in biomanufacturing.

The program, which begins Monday at the Mount Wachusett Community College facility in Devens, is funded through a $1.6 million U.S. Department of Labor Grant. All the sessions will be held there.

Ms. Barry, director of quality control for Bionostics’ Devens facility, explained that she was once a teacher. “During Prop 2-1/2 my job was eliminated. I decided to go back to school. I had a background in biology. So I did it, and here I am today.

“I know you’re probably nervous, a little uncertain,” the Mount Wachusett alumna said during the orientation. “The fact that you’re here, I think, is commendable. You’re taking the first steps and that’s great.”

Classroom instruction and practical laboratory sessions will be combined to give students skills and knowledge for manufacturing and quality-control positions in biotech.

“The economy is going to turn around and when it does, the region of the country that has the best educated work force will come out of this recession sooner than other parts of the country,” said MWCC president Daniel M. Asquino.

Mr. Asquino told the students of the large investment the college has made in the physical plant. “All of this is new,” he said pointing to the laboratory the students will be working in. “And in many cases you’re going to be the first students who will be using this equipment.”

“The investment was made because we realize the role our college plays in providing an educated work force for the region,” Mr. Asquino said.

Lara Dowland, chairwoman of the college’s Biotechnology, Biomanufacturing Department, noted the tremendous potential for growth in the industry. “This industry is not at full realization yet, so the job opportunities will continue to grow for graduates.”

Recruitment will begin March 15 for the second work force training program session, scheduled to begin in August.

Recent high school graduates as well as career-changers with a strong background in mathematics, biology and chemistry are eligible to apply for the program.

Classes will be three days a week, seven hours a day, at the Devens campus.

The program will be repeated the next three years for six 15-week sessions. The grant covers student tuition, fees, equipment and supplies. Students will buy their own textbook, which they retain as reference.

Information sessions on the program will be Feb. 9 and March 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Devens campus, 27 Jackson Road.

Prospective students interested in obtaining information about the Biomanufacturing Workforce Training Program should contact Tami Morin at (978) 630-9578 or tmorin@mwcc.mass.edu.


24 Jan 2009

Consumers in Asia ready for benefits of biotechnology derived foods

Consumers in Asia, especially India, China, Philippines are ready to accept the benefits of biotechnology derived foods, according to a consumer survey by the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC).

The Asia region resource centre on nutrition, health and food safey has concluded that biotech foods will likely become an increasing and well accepted feature of the Asian diet in the light of the region's grwoing demand for high volumes of food.

Currently, the only genetically modified (GM or biotech) crop grown commercially in India is Bt Cotton but the government's policy leans towards bigger use of biotech food crops in the near future.

Field and other levels of trials are already on vis a vis a range of biotech crops including Bt brinjal, okra etc.

In 2008, the government simplified, for biotech companies, the currently multi-level and complex trials made mandatory thus far before a biotech crop can come to field trials.

Officially, though, the sceintific establishment has plumped for hybrids over biotech in food crops in the last few decades.

That notwithstanding, the AFIC survey "Consumer Perception on Acceptance of biotech Food in Asia", conducted by Nielsen across five Asian countries inlcuding Idnia, Japan, China, Philippines and S Korea, has found that in India, a significant 95% of consumers support plant biotechnology related to sustainable food production; 84% of Indians are ready to purchase biotech food such as tastier tomato, cheaper food staples adn foods/cooking oil with a healthier fat profile: more confident with food safety levels in the country, vis a vis other Asian countries surveyed.

The survey also contends that 70% of Indians strongly believe that food biotechnology will bring benefits in the next few years whiel 68% are sastified with the information provided on food labels. 70% of consumes surveyed, it said, had a neutral or favourable impression of biotech use in food production.

The AFIC survey has also maintained that that Asian consumers, unlike EU and US consumers, ranked expiry date as the "most important" information lookoed for while reading food labelsand that they did not perceive the presence of biotech ingredients as an additional labelling item.

"Food biotechnology is not a priority food safety concern among consumers. Teh important concerns are pesticide residues, food poisoning, food from unknown source and improper handling of food," the AFIC contended in a statement.

The survey itself maintains " Asian consumers rated reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food, foolowed by increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger, as the most important crop production factors related to sustainable food production."

Accordign to Dr George Fuller, ED of the AFIC " It is encouraign to note that 84% of Indians are ready to purchase biotech food to experience its benefits and are the most confident with the food safety levels in the country, vis a vis Asian counterparts. This is good news for India, as the government considers crop biotechnolgoy as the strategic element to increase productivity of food. "

In additin to the findings from India, the survey findings from China contends that while 94% of Chinese consumers support plant biotechnology related to sustainable food production.

The level stands at 92% in Philippines, 71% in S Korea and a much lower 67% in Japan. 82% of the Chinese consumers surveyed preferred nutritionally enhanced soy products, while 98% of those surveyed in the Philippines preferred rice and biotech cooking oil with reduced saturated and transfats.

Korean consumers surveyed favoured cooking oil and foods with a healthier oil profile while in Japan, freshness and taste were the most preferred qualities looked for in food.

The survey said that Philippines and Chinese consumers surveyed were also confident with the safety levels in their country. Ironically, biotech experts worldwide have maintained that safety in biotech foods is the key focus in this, the second decade of its existence worldwide.


21 Jan 2009

Skilled workers needed for biotech jobs

Biotechnology remains a job creation engine for California despite the financial gridlock that threatens to starve smaller biotech companies of the capital they need to turn lab discoveries into new treatments, the industry's Northern California trade association said.

But the group, BayBio, said many biomedical jobs may go unfilled because the state's programs in science education aren't meeting the demand.

That conclusion was part of the annual report BayBio issued Wednesday showcasing the accomplishments of California life sciences companies. It was certainly the most poignant message in the report, given the U.S. environment of layoffs and climbing unemployment rates.

BayBio released its Impact 2009 study in San Francisco, drawing a spin-off crowd from the thousands of executives and investors gathered nearby for the industry's big J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference at the Westin St. Francis.

The trade group recited its usual inventory of noteworthy accomplishments from the Northern California life sciences cluster - the oldest, largest and most productive in the nation. BayBio uses the data to lobby Sacramento and Washington legislators for tax breaks and other policies to foster the growth of the industry. Such measures are more important than ever as the credit crunch continues to hamper biotech innovation, said BayBio president Matt Gardner.

But a concern in California is a category of positions that remain open because the state can't train people fast enough.

Biomedical companies and hospitals need licensed clinical laboratory scientists to carry out diagnostic tests and other lab tasks to support medical treatment and research. If the state quadrupled its output of such workers, Gardner said, it wouldn't meet the need in hospitals alone. And more such workers are being sought by companies that are steadily developing an array of gene-based tests to match each patient with the best treatment, part of a biotech approach called "personalized medicine."

"The biotech industry is ready, willing and able to add new jobs," Gardner said.

But Gardner said California's budget crisis may make it difficult to beef up educational programs in science, one of the core recommendations of the trade group. "Alarmingly, the U.S. Department of Education ranked California student achievement 48 out of 50 states in eighth-grade science education in 2007," BayBio said in its report.

Budget constraints could force more biotech companies to focus their waning resources on a smaller number of scientific projects if the flow of capital doesn't improve, Gardner said. To help struggling companies that have not yet achieved profitability, the state and federal governments should allow those firms greater flexibility to convert their operating losses into tax rebates or offsets on future profit, BayBio said.

Biotech, medical device and diagnostic test developers contribute more than $22 billion to the state payroll with about 264,000 jobs in the sector, the trade group said. California companies have 1,294 treatments on the market, and another 738 in later-stage clinical testing.

Northern California has about 4,083 life sciences companies, compared with about 4,646 in Southern California. But the Northern cluster has 463 experimental treatments in late-stage testing, while Southern California has 275, BayBio said.


20 Jan 2009

Biohacking: The Open Wetware Future

Much of the infotech revolution erupted from garages (Hewlett Packard, Apple, Google), and the same thing is beginning to happen with biotech. Biohacking is in its infancy, but the tools and knowledge to make novel organisms is becoming cheaper and more widely available all the time. Open wetware is the wave of the biotech future. For example, the Associated Press reports:

In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly...

Patterson, the computer programmer, wants to insert the gene for fluorescence into yogurt bacteria, applying techniques developed in the 1970s.

She learned about genetic engineering by reading scientific papers and getting tips from online forums. She ordered jellyfish DNA for a green fluorescent protein from a biological supply company for less than $100. And she built her own lab equipment, including a gel electrophoresis chamber, or DNA analyzer, which she constructed for less than $25, versus more than $200 for a low-end off-the-shelf model.

Patterson is just at the beginning of our biotech future as recently limned by physicist Freeman Dyson:

The domestication of biotechnology in everyday life may also be helpful in solving practical economic and environmental problems. Once a new generation of children has grown up, as familiar with biotech games as our grandchildren are now with computer games, biotechnology will no longer seem weird and alien. In the era of Open Source biology, the magic of genes will be available to anyone with the skill and imagination to use it. The way will be open for biotechnology to move into the mainstream of economic development, to help us solve some of our urgent social problems and ameliorate the human condition all over the earth. Open Source biology could be a powerful tool, giving us access to cheap and abundant solar energy...

Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture.

Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but a great many will bring joy to their creators and variety to our fauna and flora. The final step in the domestication of biotechnology will be biotech games, designed like computer games for children down to kindergarten age but played with real eggs and seeds rather than with images on a screen. Playing such games, kids will acquire an intimate feeling for the organisms that they are growing. The winner could be the kid whose seed grows the prickliest cactus, or the kid whose egg hatches the cutest dinosaur.

Seed has an interesting interview with DIYBio co-founder Mackenzie Cowell. The nascent DIYBio aims

...to help make biology a worthwhile pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists, and DIY biological engineers who value openness and safety. This will require mechanisms for amateurs to increase their knowledge and skills, access to a community of experts, the development of a code of ethics, responsible oversight, and leadership on issues that are unique to doing biology outside of traditional professional settings.

Among other things, DIYBio wants to build a public wetlab where citizen scientists have access to the tools needed to advance their projects at minimal cost.

But what about safety? After all, some garage infotech hackers unleashed destructive computer viruses into the internet. Shouldn't we fear that garage biohackers will release actual viruses into the biosphere? Indeed, this will happen, but what's the best way to protect ourselves from malicious biotech viruses and other organisms? More regulation and government restrictions on access to biotech equipment and materials? In his Seed interview, Cowell gets it pretty much right:

All the hazardous sequences are available publicly from GenBank, etc.: Ebola, H5N1, the 1918 plague; they're all there. DIYbio won't change that. We're looking to mostly focus on doing wet lab work in a very public, transparent group setting. So that if anyone — a neighbor, a governmental agent, a journalist — wants to know what is going on, it's evident what we are working on. Forming that community is the first defense so that the 99.9999 percent of the group who are positive will stop the .0001 percent of the group that's negative. Today, at the ground floor, I think it's best if we blaze a path forward in a very public and open way. A small minority may have unleashed computer viruses over the years, but it's the computer hacking community at large who created many of the solutions that safeguard us from them.

Back in 2004, I argued that the best bio-defense is a robust bio-offense:

Biodefense depends not on abandoning technology or appeasing our potential adversaries, but on nurturing a robust biotechnology. Remember, we are talking about "dual use" technologies—for both offense and defense...

...let us assume the worst: that fiendishly clever evildoers could devise some sort of superplague that would kill off some huge fraction of humanity. A plague as deadly as Ebola, more communicable than the common cold, and with a latency period of several weeks to allow it to spread through unwitting populations.

What would it take to counter such a pathogen? A dynamic and extensive diagnostic and biomedical manufacturing system that could deploy multiple levels of defense, including vaccines, new antibiotics, and other novel targeted therapies. To do that, we need to move ahead with innovative biotech.

Fortunately we are well on our way to developing such a biotechnological infrastructure. The future will see a system in which first responders, perhaps using biolabs on a chip, will be able to decode the genomes of pathogens in hours. Once decoded, biotechnologists could quickly identify essential metabolic circuits and then design therapeutic molecules to disrupt them, thus preventing the spread of the bioterror agent. For example, consider neuraminidase inhibitors like Tamiflu, and Relenza which halt flu infections if taken shortly after exposure or onset of symptoms. Similarly, researchers have discovered highly effective compounds like adefovir that block anthrax's deadly edema factor toxin.

Perhaps in the future, labs could design, test, and manufacture vast quantities of antibodies to protect people from bioattacks from newly bioengineered pathogens. Novel vaccines will also be part of any anti-bioterror defense effort.

Because of all of the above, it is vital that bad policies not be permitted to stifle biotechnological research and development. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to stop future bioterrorists from dreaming up and deploying new bioengineered pathogens. But a robust biotechnology should be able to confine the effects of such attacks to no more than the number of people who are killed by car bombs today. Future bioterrorist attacks will be nightmares for those affected, but they ought not be sufficient to destabilize civilization.


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