Patent for determining gene function quickly with Hellsgate

A CSIRO innovation for determining gene function quickly and with virtually 100 per cent efficiency has been granted a US patent clarifying its leadership position in the international gene silencing arena.

Hellsgate, named after one of its developers Dr Chris Helliwell, is a set of RNAi vectors that allow researchers to knock out the expression of hundreds to thousands of selected genes, one at a time.

"RNAi vectors are very hard to make, but with Hellsgate, which uses Gateway(TM) technology, you can make either one or up to 100 hairpin constructs from start to finish in just two days," says CSIRO Plant Industry Business Development Manager Dr Bill Taylor.

The molecular tool is just one of a family of CSIRO-developed vectors designed to simplify the use of hairpinRNAi -- CSIRO's gene silencing technology -- in functional genomics and trait development and the first to be granted a US patent.

"We're seeing a lot of interest in Hellsgate and its vector-siblings, Stargate and Watergate, by the plant research community in particular with more than 2,000 distributed to research labs around the world," says Dr Taylor.

"A major focus for many of these researchers is the discovery of genes responsible for key traits, such as resistance to pests and diseases or the ability to grow in hostile environments.

"Hellsgate is the technology of choice to confirm gene function so that breeding of new varieties can be based on genes with proven function."

Dr Taylor says the effectiveness of the CSIRO invention is highlighted by the use of a Hellsgate vector by the Arabidopsis Genomic RNAi Knock-Out Line Analysis (AGRIKOLA) consortium.

The European research consortium is using the vectors to create a library of constructs for every gene in Arabidopsis, a small plant used extensively in research because of its short life cycle of 21 days.

HairpinRNAi was discovered by CSIRO in 1997 by a CSIRO Plant Industry team including Dr Peter Waterhouse and Dr Ming-Bo Wang, and is a highly efficient method of triggering gene silencing.

The technology works through a natural surveillance system that detects and destroys double stranded RNA in cells. The Hellsgate vectors deliver double stranded hairpin RNA molecules corresponding to each selected gene, thereby destroying the messenger RNA for that gene and preventing its expression, silencing the gene.

CSIRO is actively licensing its RNAi technology including US Patent No 6933146 for applications in research and the development of commercial products.

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