Life Technologies launches new genome editing technology

By Erin Voegele | March 21, 2012

Life Technologies Corp. has announced the launch of GeneArt Precision TALs, generally referred to as TAL effector proteins (TALE), which allow researchers the ability to edit genomes and control gene activity with unprecedented precision and reliability.

According to Daniel Schroen, Life Technologies’ director of market development, the new technology gives researchers to focus precisely on DNA and manipulate it in a new way. For example, the TAL effectors allow them to activate new genes or insert new genes to add functionality. Within the biorefining industry, he notes that the technology can be used in a variety of capacities, including the optimization of enzymes to break down biomass, or the design of more efficient algae strains.

“What this technology allows you to do is to make direct edits to the genome,” said Reed Hickey, Life Technologies’ product manager. Data gathered by the company have proved its effectiveness with fungi, algae and a variety of other biomass forms. “What this allows you to do is turn on a whole pathway, [for example to] increase the expression of lipid production in a specific strain of algae, or change the way photosynthesis is performed so you can support photosynthetic pathways from other strains and engineer a plant to do exactly what you need it to do to improve the energy capture for biofuels.”

According to Life Technologies, TAL effectors can be designed to bind to specific DNA sequences selected by researchers and can deliver a variety of functional elements to activate or repress gene expression, or to cut and insert DNA with precision. TAL proteins have an advantage over competing zinc finger technology in that they are simpler to design, bind with greater specificity and display fewer "off-target" events.

“Researchers give us the sequence they want to target, and we send them a gene encoding the TAL protein that will target it,” said Nathan Wood, vice president of synthetic biology at Life Technologies. “The encoding process is that simple.”

Hickey noted that there hasn’t been a tool like this that has been made broadly available to the research and development community, or to those working on bioenergy research, until now. This technology, he said, will allow those in the research community to achieve results quicker and with less false starts and smaller screening efforts. “This is going to rapidly change the way people are building the feedstocks for biofuels,” Hickey said.

The licensing mechanism Life Technologies is offering for the technology is unique. “This is available under research use only license—a limited use label license,” Hickey said. In other words, those in the research community can simply buy the product and use it. “They don’t need to go down the licensing path until [they are ready to scale-up production of a product],” he explained.