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Cambridge-based MIT spinoff Metabolix (MBLX) pioneers biodegradeable plastics made from plant matter: Bioplastic April 23, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Biotech, Manufacturing, Products, renewable energy, Startups.
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The publicly traded company has seen its stock nearly double over the past year. The company has genetically engineered a microbe that eats sugar from corn and generates a plastic-like molecule called PHA. After a few months, the bioplastic will decompose in water or soil and is so pure that waste containers made with the material are safe for use in backyard composting heaps. Metabolix also claims its bioplastic is carbon neutral.

The company has entered into a joint venture with the Archer Daniels Midland company (ADM) which is called Telles. The venture will begin shipping their “Mirel” bioplastic pellets from a new plant in Clinton, Iowa. Newell Rubbermaid’s Paper Mate division is one of the first customers, using the Mirel bioplastic pellets in a resin form for their new $1.25 biodegradeable Paper Mate pens.

Metabolix charges around $2.50 a pound for its green bioplastic, about twice the price of traditional plastics. But increased customer demand for “Green” products and biodegradeable items is so strong in many cases that lower margins can be made up for by increased unit sales.

Metabolix creates products that are genetically modified – a taboo in many environmentalist circles. And, as the demand for bioplastics increases, many worry that the demand for corn, already being used increasingly for ethanol production, will rise even more dramatically, driving up food prices.

Metabolix is working to address these concerns by researching next generation plastics made from nonfood material such as prairie switchgrass.

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How genetic engineers manipulate genes April 11, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Biotech.
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How genetic engineers manipulate genes

Genes are the instructions to make proteins, which are responsible for almost all of the processes that keep organisms alive.

Genetic engineering techniques are used to insert genes from other organisms into bacteria, which then churn out proteins that produce hepatitis-B vaccine and insulin for diabetics. Botanists genetically modify crops to boost hardiness and nutritional value.

But geneticists do more than bestow organisms with new characteristics. They also manipulate DNA to study the role of individual genes. Scientists add, delete, or modify genes, thus altering the corresponding proteins’ structure or levels in the cell and revealing the genes’ role.

Genetic Engineering

Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineers have manipulated the DNA of organisms as diverse as mammals, birds, fish, insects, worms, plants, fungi and bacteria. These studies have given scientists valuable insights into how the human body functions and why diseases arise in humans.
Scientific identification of genes can also provide targets for new antibiotic and antiviral drugs. Further, gene therapy could someday allow scientists to cure diseases and cancers by replacement of defective genes.

In addition, genetically engineering microbes could produce new biodegradable polymers or clean up radioactive waste sites or petroleum spills.

Although scientists have sequences the complete genomes of many organisms, including humans, there is still a great deal unknown about what all those genes do. As the quest for this genetic knowledge continues, the important role that genetic engineers play will only expand.

Four ways to manipulate genes:

1. Amplify a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to learn more about a gene’s role in an organism.

Genetic engineers would effect this change by manipulating or adding an extra copy of the gene to increase its activity.

Because over expression of a gene responsible for a cell’s ability to respond to a protein called epidermal growth factor is associated with most cancers, this has led to the development of anti-cancer drugs that target the expression of this gene.

2. Delete a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to learn more about a gene’s role in an organism, this time by seeing what happens when the gene is removed.

Genetic engineers or scientists would remove or replace the normal functioning version of the gene to delete it.

Deleting certain genes in mice has shown how their absence affects disease. Knocking out genes like PINK1 or DJ-1, for example, can lead to Parkinson’s symptoms in mice, providing an animal model to study the disease.

3. Modify a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to identify the specific sequence of DNA that is responsible for a gene’s function.

A mutated gene is inserted into an organism. The gene produces a modified protein.

Modified genes may explain how enzymes bind to other molecules. Angiotensin-converting enzyme, for example, plays a role in heart function and diabetes. Protein sequences allow the enzyme to bind to ions, which helps to regulate its activity.

4. Map a genetic characteristic:
The purpose would be to understand the activity of a gene and its protein.

A “marked” gene is transferred into an organism’s cells.

Proteins of marked BRCA1 genes, whose mutation can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, were found in the cells’ mitochondria. BRCA1’s presence there may be important for tis function in suppressing tumors, because cancer is often associated with mutated mitochondrial DNA.

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About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m the Senior Technical Project Manager at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

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