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4-Patents: Thai scientists patent rice genes in the USA



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TITLE:  Thai scientists patent rice genes
SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand, by Pongpen Sutharoj
DATE:   30 Oct 2005

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Thai scientists patent rice genes

A group of Thai biotechnologists has patented a group of genes in the
rice plant that they claim are responsible for producing aromatic grain.

Patent registration with the US Patent and Trademark Office is being
followed by patent applications in another seven countries. The leader of
the Thailand Rice Genome Project, Apichart Wannavijitr, said yesterday it
was the first time Thai researchers had received patent protection for
genetic material and showed that Thailand's capacity in biotechnology was
up with that in the rest of the world.

The project is a collaboration between the National Centre for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec) and Kasetsart University. The dis-
covery was made last year and the patent registered earlier this year.

Biotec's director, Morakot Tanticharoen, said the team had spent several
years studying the rice genome to discover the genes in Thai jasmine rice
that gave it its unique fragrance.

The sequence of genes giving a rice plant a fragrant aroma is now not
only known but can also be used to create aromatic qualities in ordinary,
non-aromatic rice varieties, she said.

The researchers found that fragrant rice was the result of a genetic
mutation, the plant actually having abnormal genes.

In the gene sequence of Thai jasmine rice, eight genetic "characters" are
not working.

The rice genome has about 50,000 genes. This discovery led researchers to
conclude that if the same eight characters were stopped in other rice
varieties, they would develop aromatic qualities, she said.

Laboratory tests on non-fragrant Japanese rice successfully changed it
into fragrant rice.

With this technique, researchers can improve other rice breeds to produce
a better fragrance.

It can also be applied to improving other crops, including wheat, corn,
soybeans and coconuts, Morakot said.

Apichart said it was important for Thailand to register the patent so as
to keep the benefits for Thailand.

As well as the US, the research team is applying for patents in
Australia, France, China, Vietnam, Japan, India and the Philippines.
Among them are the country's main rice-growing competitors.

Morakot said the patent registration was aimed at protecting Thailand's
intellectual property in having found the aroma gene and also its use to
boost local rice-breeding efforts.

In addition, the team has also developed a molecular marker for the aroma
genes, called Aromaker. It will substantially shorten the time needed to
develop new varieties.

According to the Office of Economic Agriculture, Thailand's total rice
exports in 2004 were worth Bt108 billion. Of this, aromatic rice exports
were valued at Bt35 billion.

Morakot said the improvement of aromatic rice would not only help farmers
produce better-quality grain but would also generate more export income.

The new discoveries of the Thailand Rice Genome Project will be showcased
at Bio Thailand 2005, the country's largest biotechnology exhibition,
opening on Wednesday at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre.




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