Making noise about gene silencing

Advances in an area widely regarded in scientific circles as the ’next big thing’ – RNA interference (RNAi) – will be the major focus of a CSIRO-hosted conference on the Gold Coast in September.

The chairman of the ’Horizons in Livestock Sciences’ conference, CSIRO’s Dr Tim Doran, says RNAi research has major implications for plant, animal and human health.

“Since RNAi was first described in the 1990s, the technology has been rapidly adopted in laboratories around the world,” Dr Doran says. “RNAi can be applied to a range of research problems – the key areas being a way of controlling disease and a tool for gene identification.”

Dr Doran says RNAi is a phenomenon by which double-stranded RNA promotes gene-specific silencing.

“Eukaryotic cells see double-stranded RNA as an unwanted invader, and trigger a mechanism to destroy it and the single-stranded RNA of the same sequence. Without the RNA, the gene products – the proteins – cannot be produced and the gene is effectively silenced,” Dr Doran says.

A leading speaker is CSIRO Plant Industry’s Dr Peter Waterhouse. In 1995, the CSIRO team were first to demonstrate gene silencing in plants by intentionally using double-stranded RNA. Since the discovery of this mechanism, Dr Waterhouse and his team have focused on understanding the natural roles of gene silencing and exploiting it for genomics, virus protection and quality trait research.

Director of the Institute of Molecular Bioscience, Professor John Mattick (AO), will present the conference’s opening address. A leading figure in molecular biology and biotechnology, Professor Mattick’s key research interests include the role of non-coding RNA in the evolution and development of complex organisms.

International speakers include Chief Executive Officer/Chief Scientific Officer of the German-based company, Cenix BioScience, Dr Christophe Echeverri. In 2003, Dr Echeverri was listed in the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s magazine Technology Review. This award recognised Dr Echeverri’s pioneering work in establishing the feasibility of systematic, high-throughput applications of RNAi, probing gene functions on a genome-wide scale.

Also speaking is the Chair of the Division of Molecular Biology at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Los Angeles, and Dean of the Institute’s Graduate School of Biological Sciences, Dr John Rossi. Dr Rossi is regarded as a world leader in the development of therapeutic applications of RNAi and in HIV/AIDS clinical research and is a scientific advisor to Benitec Australia Ltd.

The DNA-directed RNAi (ddRNAi) field is one where holding intellectual property rights is a critical step to permit commercialisation. CSIRO and Benitec jointly hold the only issued US and UK patents for gene silencing in animals and have developed a substantial estate of intellectual property for supporting technologies. In December 2003, CSIRO, Benitec and the Queensland Department of Primary Industries announced a strategic agreement that provided clear pathways for the global commercialisation of this breakthrough technology. Benitec focuses on commercialising ddRNAi for ’human applications’ and CSIRO focuses on commercialising ’non-human applications’, including plants, animals and insects.

More information:

Dr Tim Doran, CSIRO Livestock Industries, +61 3 5227 5788
Email: timothy.doran@csiro.au
Dr Peter Waterhouse, CSIRO Plant Industry, + 61 2 6246 5365
Email: peter.waterhouse@csiro.au
Professor John Mattick, Institute of Molecular Bioscience, + 61 7 3346 2110
Email: j.mattick@imb.uq.edu.au
Dr Ken Reed, Director, Research and Technology, Benitec Australia, +61 7 3217 8540
Email: kreed@benitec.com
Dr John Rossi, Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope
Email: JRossi@coh.org
Dr Christophe Echeverri, Cenix BioScience
Email : fuerst@cenix-bioscience.com

The conference program is available at: www.livestockhorizons.com

Media assistance:
Judith Maunders, CSIRO Livestock Industries, +61 3 5227 5426, mobile: 0409 031 658
Email: judith.maunders@csiro.au

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