- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

Following are summaries of some recently published reports of findings in genetics:
Jumping genes
A genetically modified plant that is toxic to some insects can insert modified genes into its relatives in the wild, researchers report. Laboratory experiments with the genetically modified canola plant show the Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt gene, inserted into the plant to poison insect pests, can jump to a related weed, Brassica rapa. Researchers at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro made 11 cross-breedings between the genetically modified canola and the Brassica rapa, using different combinations of plant lines. Five of them produced stable hybrids containing the Bt gene. The five also expressed the insecticide produced by the gene at levels similar to the genetically modified parent plant and were highly toxic to insects. The study, which appeared in the Saturday issue of New Scientist magazine, also showed that similar hybrids could form under natural conditions, outside the laboratory.

Cellular microcircuits
Smaller computer microcircuits may be fabricated using a gene from a single-celled organism, Sulfolobus shibatae, that lives in near-boiling acid mud, scientists report. The researchers took the sulfolobus gene and inserted it into the common bacteria Escherichia coli, which then produced "vast quantities" of a protein that could be formed into tiny geometric shapes. "What is novel in our work is that we designed this protein so that when it self-assembles into a two-dimensional lattice or template, it also is able to capture metal and semiconductor particles at specific locations on the template surface," said co-investigator Andrew McMillan at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The genetically engineered protein can be separated from the other E. coli protein because it is more heat-stable. Today's computers have conducting elements about 130 nanometers millionths of a meter apart. The new process may produce templates with elements 20 nanometers apart. "You have to think of it as just one of many steps in making a computer circuit," Meyya Meyyappan, director of the Center for Nanotechnology at Ames, said.

A hardier rice plant
Inserting two sugar-producing genes from E. coli bacteria into Indica rice creates a plant that can withstand drier, colder and saltier conditions, molecular biologists have found. Scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., first put the E. coli genes into a bacterium called agrobacterium and then mixed the bacterium with the rice plant's equivalent of stem cells, called calli. The researchers then were able to grow plants from cells in the mixture and determine which ones had picked up the gene for trehalose sugar successfully. The genetically modified plants can survive for longer periods of time without watering, in temperatures 9 degrees Fahrenheit cooler and in salt conditions twice as severe as the unmodified plants. The researchers plan to patent the finding and allow anyone to use the discovery without cost. Several years of field tests in China, India and the Philippines are planned before the plants will be made available commercially, said lead researcher Ray Wu. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published last week.

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