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Gene modification technology developed at University of Minnesota and Iowa State University receives patents

May 17, 2013

The USPTO has issued two patents for technology developed jointly by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University that allows scientists to modify genes to create specific traits. The patents (US 8,440,431 and US 8,440,432) were issued on May 14, 2013 and are based on TAL effector nucleases that "read" DNA and make pinpoint cuts in targeted genes.

This novel approach to gene modification was developed by Daniel Voytas, professor in the U of M’s Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, along with colleagues at Iowa State University. Cited among the top 20 scientific "breakthroughs of the year" in a special issue of Science published December 2012, the technique involves taking a DNA binding protein (TAL) and fusing it to a nuclease that breaks DNA. When the chromosome break is repaired, it allows the incorporation of DNA sequence changes at a precise location in the genome.

This platform technology has broad applications in genome engineering including fundamental genetic research, crop improvement and treatment of human genetic diseases.

TAL effector nucleases represent a progression from zinc finger nucleases, or ZFNs, which originated more than a decade ago. ZFNs explore the DNA in a cell nucleus, probing with extensions, or "zinc fingers," until they find the particular DNA sequences they have been designed to ferret out. They then chop those sequences out of the chromosome, replacing them with new sequences. But where ZFNs are difficult and expensive to produce, TAL effector nucleases work better and are far easier and cheaper to make.

The newly issued patents are part of a portfolio of patents and applications licensed exclusively to Cellectis, a French biotechnology company, by the U of M’s Office for Technology Commercialization. Cellectis commercializes these molecules under the trademark TALEN™. Cellectis Plant Sciences, a subsidiary of Cellectis focused on plant genetics, operates a research and development facility in New Brighton, Minn. where Voytas serves as chief science officer. Voytas is interested in using the technology to improve disease resistance in plants and to make plants healthier by modifying plant oils and carbohydrates.

About the Office for Technology Commercialization
The Office for Technology Commercialization oversees all aspects of technology commercialization at the University of Minnesota. Its mission is to translate University research into new products and services that provide growth opportunities for its licensees, benefit the public good, improve the quality of life and generate revenue to support the University's research and education goals. Learn more at:

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