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Peer Schenk
Peer Schenk from The University of Queensland

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 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 AustraliaRed 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 transgenic1 and cisgenic2 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 programs3, 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.

Ends

Notes

1Transgenic molecular plant breeding transfers one or more genes from one species to another.
2Cisgenic molecular plant breeding transfers one or more genes from plants of the same species.
3The Nexgen technology can also be used as a trait to screen germplasm collections.

 

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