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Short Reads: Mar 1, 2005


Microsoft’s Bill Gates presented a plan to build a network of research centers across Europe in what is known as the EuroScience Initiative. The first center would be at Italy’s University of Trento, where Microsoft would fund 40 percent and government funding would make up the remaining 60 percent to start a computational and systems biology center. Funding specifics were not issued. Gates did say that if all goes well in Europe, this could be a model that might next be used in Asia and the US.


Monsanto announced plans to acquire Seminis, a producer of fruit and vegetable seeds, in a $1.4 billion deal. In a release, Monsanto stated that this might have a positive impact on biotech applications for its researchers; a spokesperson noted that this was expected to be a long-term, rather than an immediate, goal. In other Monsanto news, the company — along with Bayer CropScience, the Max Planck Society, and Garching Innovation — have settled their dispute over a patent for the transfer of DNA into plant cells, used to make transgenic crops. Monsanto and Bayer CropScience will grant each other non-exclusive licenses to the technology, and Monsanto will give Max Planck a license for research purposes in the US, according to the agreement.


Applied Biosystems filled its leadership positions for the company’s molecular biology division. William Murray, who was previously group president for respiratory technologies at VIASYS Healthcare, has been named division president. Carl Hull is the division’s VP and general manager for real-time PCR systems and microarrays; Stephen Kondor has the same title for genetic analysis; and Peter Dansky is senior director and general manager for core PCR and DNA synthesis.


Following on the heels of closing down its array business last December, MWG Biotech has sold its lab automation business to Aviso, based in Greiz, Germany. MWG still runs its oligo synthesis and gene sequencing divisions.


David Goldstein, most recently of University College London, was appointed director of the Center for Population Genomics and Pharmacogenetics at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. He will also be a professor in the departments of molecular genetics and microbiology and biology at the university.


In a bid to expand into proteomics, Axygen Scientific started a new unit called Axygen Bioscience to focus on genomics, proteomics, and protein crystallography. Axygen Bioscience, based in Union City, Calif., has more than 400 employees.


Munich’s MorphoSys bought both the UK and US divisions of Biogenesis, an immunological reagent provider, for about $8.6 million in cash. The units will become wholly owned subsidiaries of the German antibody maker.


In the name change department: Beyond Genomics renamed itself BG Medicine, indicating a shift in focus to pursuing drug-development applications of its systems pharmacology platform. Pieter Muntendam will serve as the company’s new president. Meanwhile, population genetics and biomarker discovery firm GenData changed its name to LineaGen.


Cardiologist Elizabeth Nabel was promoted to be the new director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Nabel joined the institute in 1999 as scientific director of clinical research.


GlaxoSmithKline and ViroLogic signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal for the pharma to use ViroLogic’s HIV co-receptor tropism assay in its discovery and development work.


A 14-member European research consortium known as “Bloodomics,” consisting of at least 180 scientists, won a four-year, €9 million grant from the European Commission’s Sixth Research Framework Programme to discover genetic markers associated with risk of myocardial infarction and clot formation.


GenoLogics completed its series A funding, rounding up $5 million in venture capital. Funding was led by OVP Venture Partners of Seattle and Yaletown Venture Partners of Vancouver. The Canadian company’s first product is an open informatics platform for proteomics research.


Lion Bioscience reported a 65 percent drop in revenue — from €6.3 million to €2.2 million — for the quarter ending Dec. 31 compared to the same quarter a year ago. That was “in line with expectations,” according to the company. Net losses for the same period dropped significantly, from €6.3 million to €3.2 million.


OpGen concluded its series B funding, totaling $5 million. All previous investors participated in the round, and the money is expected to go toward sales and marketing efforts, service collaborations, and commercialization of its optical mapping technology.


NIH developed a new ethics regulation prohibiting all institute employees from working for pharmaceutical and biological companies or research institutions. The regulation also covers which staffers may make investments in companies. Though the rule was expected to take effect almost immediately, it was to be subject to revision by the US Department of Health and Human Services through the end of March.


John Stuelpnagel, a founder of Illumina, was promoted to the new position of COO of the San Diego company.


Investment advisor John Walker will be the interim CEO of Guava Technologies, replacing Rajen Dalal, who resigned from the company.


Gene Network Sciences won two SBIR grants from NHLBI — each worth close to $100,000 for six months — to develop a simulation platform for creating computer models of cardiac electrophysiology driven by data and to model cardiac signaling networks.


DNA Chip Research and Sumitomo Bakelite have co-developed a highly sensitive microarray method for detecting genes, the companies announced. The proprietary plastic substrate is 100 times more sensitive than its glass or other counterparts, Sumitomo says.


Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute is to be awarded the 2005 Benjamin Franklin Award in Bioinformatics, bestowed by to a scientist who has promoted open access in the field. Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences will celebrate 17 scientists for their outstanding achievements — among them University of Colorado’s Marvin Caruthers and Whitehead’s David Bartel.


The Scan

Mosquitos Genetically Modified to Prevent Malaria Spread

A gene drive approach could be used to render mosquitos unable to spread malaria, researchers report in Science Advances.

Gut Microbiomes Allow Bears to Grow to Similar Sizes Despite Differing Diets

Researchers in Scientific Reports find that the makeup of brown bears' gut microbiomes allows them to reach similar sizes even when feasting on different foods.

Finding Safe Harbor in the Human Genome

In Genome Biology, researchers present a new approach to identify genomic safe harbors where transgenes can be expressed without affecting host cell function.

New Data Point to Nuanced Relationship Between Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder

Lund University researchers in JAMA Psychiatry uncover overlapping genetic liabilities for major depression and bipolar disorder.