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2-Plants: Australian scientists use African gene in insectresistant GE cotton

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TITLE:  Aussie protein find may be used for GE crops and pharmaceuticals
SOURCE: Reuters,2106,2488135a6026,00.html
DATE:   May 21, 2003

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Aussie protein find may be used for GE crops and pharmaceuticals

SYDNEY: Australian scientists have isolated an unusually shaped protein
that they say could produce major gains for multi-billion dollar-a-year
crops and a breakthrough in pharmaceutical applications.

First target is Australia's $A2 billion ($NZ2.26 billion) annual cotton
crop, a major export that scientists said could be protected from a
destructive bug if the plant was engineered injected with the plant protein.

The protein is found in a perennial African weed, Oldenlandia affinis,
which has a woody root and blue-violet flowers, and is found in the
tropical zones of Africa and western Asia

Insertion of the protein into the cotton plant's gene could protect it
from the destructive Helicoverpa caterpillar, the Australian equivalent
of a world-wide scourge of cotton crops, said David Craik, a professor at
the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

"Potentially the caterpillars can destroy 10 to 15 per cent of the crop
so the damage is enormous," said Mr Craik, discoverer of the protein.

"Such a gene, if inserted into the cotton, could prove a highly effective
and natural insecticide, removing the need to use chemical sprays that
are of such environmental concern."

The protein, found in plant families which include the Australian violet,
is a shape which protects it from attack by biological enzymes because it
has no exposed ends.

Kalata B1 is not only a cyclic protein 29 amino-acids long but it also
sports a biological knot with a twist similar to a Moebius strip which
means that its has neither and inside nor outside.

The result is sufficient strength to repel insect attacks.

About 30 per cent of Australia's cotton crop is presently genetically
engineered through Monsanto Co's Ingard product, which is based on a
bacterial toxin.

Use of the two applications together could produce a huge leap forward
for the Australian cotton industry, and potentially for other crops, Mr
Craik said.

It would also give drugs sufficient structural strength to survive the
acids of human digestion, he said.

The protein could lead to production of a range of oral pharmaceuticals
that would replace drugs which presently have to be injected to by-pass
the human digestive system.

Mr C raik began researching the proteins after hearing of African women
who boiled kalata plant leaves for tea, which they drink during
childbirth to accelerate labour.

The plant protein was able to withstand boiling and was highly effective
when ingested by mouth because it survived the stomach acids.

"When you boil your eggs in the morning they denature: go solid. Most
proteins are very unstable but this protein (is) ... super-stable and
therefore resistant to digestion," he said.

Mr Craik said he was moving toward commercial application.



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