Nexgen, a cutting edge anti-viral technology for plants, developed at The University of Queensland (UQ), has attracted a $50,000 Skills and Knowledge grant from Commercialisation Australia (CA).
Nexgen Plants is based on the identification of a new class of plant virus micro RNA molecules (miRNA) involved in modulating a plant’s defence response to virus attack. This discovery and its associated propagation methods allow virus resistance to be introduced into key breeding lines and varieties, offering plant breeding companies a unique competitive advantage for boosting seed and/or plant sales.
UQ’s main research commercialisation company, UniQuest, helped Associate Professor Peer Schenk and the Nexgen research team from UQ’s Faculty of Science secure the funding. Nexgen is the fourth UQ agricultural innovation to receive CA funding (along with BioHerbicides Australia, Red Bayberry and AGENTA).
UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said CA grants advance the commercial development of new technologies like Nexgen by supporting engagement with industry and investors.
“Crop losses from viral infections create a multi-billion dollar global problem. CA funding to access specialist advice and services means we can work towards raising the capital required to establish a start-up company that will develop virus-resistant varieties of plants for different crop types,” Mr Henderson said.
“With CA recognising Nexgen’s potential to generate national economic and agricultural benefits, and providing this important stage and level of funding, we can package the intellectual property in a way that is more attractive to venture capital firms in Australia and the US, as well as global seed biotech companies.”
Nexgen has also been selected, along with 21 others to present at the 2012 Ag Innovation Showcase in St Louis, Missouri, USA, after competing against 60 other agri-based innovations from around the world for the honour.
Associate Professor Peer Schenk, who works in UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, said the Nexgen technology has the potential to dramatically alter plant breeding activities.
“The Nexgen technology includes transgenic and cisgenic breeding methods that confer virus resistance into existing commercial varieties of crops in less than 12 months. The resistance is expected to work for hybrid seed production linking in with current breeding programs, and the plant viruses would have to develop an extremely unlikely mutation for the resistance to be broken,” Associate Professor Schenk explained.
The research team has screened a range of high value crops such as sugarcane, soybean, maize, rice, potato, wheat and cotton for resistance to Potyviruses, Tospoviruses, Cucumoviruses and Geminiviruses using the Nexgen technology.
1 Transgenic molecular plant breeding transfers one or more genes from one species to another.
2 Cisgenic molecular plant breeding transfers one or more genes from plants of the same species.
3 The Nexgen technology can also be used as a trait to screen germplasm collections
UniQuest Pty Limited
Established by The University of Queensland in 1984, UniQuest is widely recognised as one of Australia’s largest and most successful university commercialisation groups, benchmarking in the top tier of technology transfer worldwide. From an intellectual property portfolio of 1500+ patents it has created over 70 companies, and since 2000 UniQuest and its start-ups have raised more than A$450 million to take university technologies to market. Annual sales of products using UQ technology and licensed by UniQuest are running at A$3 billion. UniQuest now commercialises innovations developed at The University of Queensland including the Institute for Molecular Bioscience and its commercialisation partner institutions: the University of Wollongong, University of Technology Sydney, James Cook University, University of Tasmania, Mater Medical Research Institute, and Queensland Health. A recent addition to the company is the Queensland Government-supported ilab technology business incubator and accelerator. UniQuest also provides access to an expansive and exclusive network of independent academics to tailor a consulting or project R&D solution to meet the diverse needs of industry and government, facilitating some 500 consulting, expert opinion, testing, and contract research services each year. UniQuest is also a leading Australasian provider of international development assistance recognised for excellence in technical leadership, management and research. Working with agencies such as AusAID, NZAID, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, UniQuest has developed and implemented more than 400 projects in 60+ countries throughout the Pacific, South-East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Africa.
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