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RNAi at GSAC, Thermo Electron, Max Planck, Hybridion, Harvard Medical School


RNAi Wiggles Its Way into GSAC Talks

At the 15th annual Genome Sequencing and Analysis Conference in Savannah, Ga., this week, sponsored by the Institute for Genomic Research, RNAi wiggled its way into several plenary talks.

During the opening night, Steffan Jansson, of the Umea Plant Science Centre in Umea, Sweden, discussed his work on the Populus genome project, which is trying to make the Populus genus of evergreens — aspens and cottonwoods — the model system for tree genomics. In addition to sequencing over 100,000 ESTs from 19 cDNA libraries, and producing a 25,000-spot microarray, the group has recently begun using RNAi to study gene function in the genus. “RNAi is working decently well in Populus,” Jansson said. One area the group is studying is the gene mechanisms behind wood formation.

Another group to use RNAi is the research team at Athersys, of Cleveland. Athersys uses other technologies, Random Activation of Gene Expression, or RAGE, and Genome-wide Cell-based Knockout, or GECKO, to make possible genome-wide gain-of-function and loss-of-function screens in cultured mammalian cells. Recently, company scientists have begun using siRNA to confirm the results of GECKO experiments, said John Harrington, the company’s CSO.

Thermo inKS Distribution Deal with Qiagen

Thermo Electron has signed an agreement under which its KingFisher magnetic particle processing technology will be marketed for exclusive use with Qiagen’s magenetic bead consumable technologies, the companies said this week.

Under the deal, Qiagen has a license to the KingFisher instrumentation technologies and will have the right to market existing KingFisher products. Thermo Electron will also exclusively co-promote Qiagen’s nucleic acid purification consumables with the King- Fisher instruments.

Additional terms were not disclosed.

Max Planck Signs Partnership Deal with Evotec, Definiens

The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell biology and Genetics has formed a partnership with Evotec Technologies and scientific software developer Definiens to improve technologies for high-throughput RNAi and cell-based screening.

Under the arrangement, Max Planck will apply to its assays Evotec’s Opera screening platform, which uses confocal optics for cell-based or plate-reader-based fluorescent assays, and Definiens’ Cellenger image analysis and data extraction software

Max Planck will then use the new platform to conduct internal studies, and will also work with the companies to translate their efforts into marketable products.

Hybridion Receives Patent for Antisense Oligos

Hybridon said this week that it has received a US patent covering second-generation antisense oligos targeting the RI alpha regulatory subunit of Protein Kinase A.

The patent, number 6,624,293, is entitled “Modified Protein Kinase A-Specific Oligonucleotides and Methods of Their Use,” and includes claims on the Hybridon’s GEM231 antisense drug, which is cur- rently in a phase I/II trial as a combination cancer therapy with irinotecan.

Harvard Medical School Creates Systems Biology Department

Harvard Medical school is creating a department of systems biology, the school’s first completely new department in two decades.

The school expects to recruit over 20 faculty to the new DSB and has appointed Marc Kirschner as the first department chair. Kirschner, a cell biologist, also was a leader in forming Harvard Medical School’s department of cell biology, as well as the Harvard Institute for Chemistry and Cell Biology.

“As we understand more about the tiniest pieces that we are made of, it becomes increasingly clear that we do not understand how they work together as systems,” Kirschner said in a statement. “We need to build on the foundation of molecular biology to construct an understanding of the architecture of the cell and how cells cooperate across organ systems, with a predictive model of physiology as the ultimate goal.”

Like similar centers for systems biology and integrated biology around the world, the department will draw together faculty in mathematics, computer sciences, engineering, and physics as well as the biological scinces, in order to establish the theoretical framework for understanding systems biology. It will also form programs for education of physical scientists in biology, and core facilities that promote interdisciplinary interactions. The funding for the department will come from Harvard Medical School, and Harvard University.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.