Biotech Lab Opens for Business

Svetlana Oard  |  10/26/2004 11:36:43 PM

Svetlana Oard

A primary goal of the LSU AgCenter’s Biotechnology Laboratory (ABL) is to develop new commercial products and establish biotechnology as one of Louisiana’s future leading industries. The ABL is a multidisciplinary research group that includes scientists from the departments of Agronomy, Biological Sciences, Entomology, Human Ecology, Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology, Veterinary Sciences and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Both plant and animal scientific disciplines are represented.

ABL’s mission is to create superior agronomic crops and animals and to foster economic partnerships among academic units, business and government agencies creating long-term economic and business opportunities to benefit Louisiana through the use of agricultural biotechnology.

Agro-biotechnology has vast potential for application in such areas as disease-resistant and high-yield crops and animals, green plastics and biomass-based fuels. Newly emerging areas include plant- and animal-made pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology. For example, green plastics (biological polymers derived from grain or agricultural biomass) could substitute for petroleum-derived polymers. Biomass-based fuels derived from crops could complement traditional gas and oil sources. Animal- and plant-made pharmaceuticals could significantly reduce prices of important drugs.

The research area of nanotechnology opens new possibilities by exploiting extraordinary properties of biological molecules and cell processes. Nanotechnology is based on protein engineering and production to create new materials in miniature for industries. Examples include biomaterials interfacing with living tissues to achieve natural tissue architectures for cellular implants and, therefore, functional replacement of tissues and organs. Other examples include drug-loaded nanoparticles that could deliver drugs into targeted cells, nanosensors that could monitor living systems, and biologically-based assembly of electronic materials. By 2015, the market for nanotechnology is expected to exceed $1 trillion.

How ABL Works

ABL has formal and informal relationships with a variety of organizations to enhance biotechnology research and development. Success in modern biotechnology requires high-tech equipment and combined efforts of scientists from different disciplines to design and complete necessary work for identifying and developing new products. The intellectual foundation of the ABL is based on scientific expertise covering a wide range of biological and agricultural sciences. Using our intellectual foundation and potential of the ABL, we assist science, business and government in Louisiana by combining and moving biotechnology from the research lab to commercial products and developing beneficial partnerships among appropriate parties. ABL, which unites specialists in different areas, manages this multistage process by establishing economic partnerships among academia, business and state agencies.

ABL has state-of-the-art laboratory facilities where scientists conduct research programs in the related areas of genetic transformation technologies, molecular animal and plant breeding (including rice and sugarcane transformation, mice and catfish transformation), targeted treatment of cancer, human nutrition and obesity, and related areas. Current projects include:

Developing crops resistant to pathogenic bacteria and fungi.
We screen numerous natural and synthetic antimicrobial peptides as potential inhibitors of pathogenic bacteria and fungi important for Louisiana. Three peptides have been identified with high in vitro activity against sheath blight, and they may be able to serve as potent agents against this devastating disease of rice. After testing, potential antimicrobial peptides will be introduced into rice, sugarcane, strawberries and other Louisiana crops.

Production of valuable commercial products in sugarcane. We are developing a technique for economically effective protein production in sugarcane. Sugarcane has potential to be a “factory” for low-cost production of valuable commercial products such as biological polymers, pharmaceutical compounds (antibodies and vaccines), industrial enzymes and nanomaterials. Plant-derived medicines represent a novel opportunity to develop new treatments produced from renewable raw materials that can be produced in vast quantities quickly and as needed. These medicines will be safe and effective, but also more affordable than existing pharmaceutical products derived from bacteria, animals or animal cell factories requiring a large investment in manufacturing capacity.

Partnership with biotech businesses. We are helping a private company, TransGenRx, by providing laboratory space. See the article on pages 6 and 7. Providing space and equipment plays a critical role in establishing new biotech businesses. In exchange, TransGenRx licenses LSU AgCenter technology.

More information about the ABL is available at its Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com/biotechlab.

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