11 February 2008

University of Queensland scientists have developed a proprietary technology that will help other researchers in understanding fundamental aspects of growth, development, and disease, which has been licensed to one of the world's largest life science technology companies.

Dr Marcel Dinger and Professor John Mattick, from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, have designed a new type of microarray RNA chip, used by researchers to analyse which genes are being expressed at any one time in a particular cell.

The technology has been licensed through IMBcom, UQ's company for the commercialisation of intellectual property arising from research conducted at the IMB. It was licensed to Invitrogen, a provider of essential life science technologies for research, production and diagnostics with a 2006 revenue of US$1.15 billion.

“Every cell in the body contains a full set of genes, but different cells express different subsets,” Professor Mattick said.

In the past these genes were thought only to code mainly for proteins, via the production of "messenger RNAs", but it is now evident that many other genes produce non-coding RNAs whose functions have yet to be determined.

“It appears that we have misunderstood the nature of genetic programming in humans and other complex organisms,” Professor Mattick said. “Most of the genome is transcribed, mainly into non-coding RNAs, which appear to comprise a hidden layer of gene regulation whose full dimensions are just beginning to be explored.

“There is increasing recognition that these non-coding RNAs control various levels of gene expression in physiology and development, as well as in the brain.”

Products commercialized by Invitrogen will be based on a novel set of RNA probes that Dr Dinger and Professor Mattick have designed, which can uniquely identify tens of thousands of coding and non-coding RNA sequences. This is the first time that one product has been able to identify both large numbers of protein-coding and non-coding RNAs.

“This technology will allow researchers to obtain more accurate information about the relationship between messenger and non-coding RNA expression,” Dr Peter Isdale, CEO of IMBcom, said. “It has the potential to make a real impact in cancer and stem cell research, as these RNAs are implicated in both of these areas.”

Media contacts:
Professor John Mattick – 07 3346 2079 

Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications – 07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247

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