Circular protein research heads latest BIF grant parade

By Pete Young
Wednesday, 21 August, 2002

The Federal government is gambling $250,000 that Australian researchers can produce a commercial payoff from world-leading work on an unusual family of circular proteins.

The funds are in the form of a BIF grant to Cyclagen, a company being formed to capitalise on years of Australian research into naturally-occurring plant proteins called cyclotides.

Cyclagen's goal calls for the use of transgenic cotton to exploit the pesticide properties of cyclotides.

It will build on the work of Assoc Prof David Craik, a structural biologist at the University of Queensland who led a team which discovered that cyclotides can act as defence molecules against some insects.

Craik said his 10 years of research were initially driven by interest in the molecule's knotted disulphide bonds. The protein is quite unusual in that its ends are joined together, which makes the molecule much more stable.

First identified in exotic African plants, the protein family has now been found in others including common Australian plants.

Initial testing was aimed at medicinal uses and the revelation of the protein's potency as an insecticide "was a chance discovery," Craik said.

Collaborative research with Assoc Prof Marilyn Anderson, a molecular biologist at La Trobe University, has shown insectidal activity of cyclotides on a common Australian pest moth.

The BIF grant will allow Cyclagen to join forces with Melbourne company Hexima, which has expertise in transgenic cotton, in an effort to transfer cyclotide genes into the cotton genome.

The grant will also expand its testing of around one hundred molecular variants which make up the cyclotide family to find the optimal one for anti-insect activity.

In addition, the grant will underwrite further research to pin down the precise mode of the protein's insectival action in caterpillars.

"We have demonstrated the ability of cyclotides to restrict the growth and prevent further development of these pest moths, but the actual mode of action is not fully understood," Craik said.

The BIF grant is expected to fund 18 months of operation for Cyclagen, which will be headed by Craik and draw on the services of about 10 University of Queensland researchers.

Though several groups around the world shared in the discovery of circular proteins in the mid 1990s, Craik's team was the only one which structurally characterised them and gave them their name.

The winners

The full list of the latest round of BIF winners is as follows:

ADP Pharmaceuticals (NSW) $149,625 Restoration of cartilage by novel gene therapy

Advanced Metal Coatings (NSW) $250,000 Cardiac catheters with metal-coated polymer electrodes

Alzhyme (WA) $250,000 Validation of lead molecules directed at the cause of Alzheimer's disease

Anadis (Vic) $250,000 Demonstration of the efficacy of a novel food additive which protects beneficial bacteria in gut-benefit foods

Aortech Biomaterials (NSW) $250,000 Drug eluting stents and stent grafts for coronary and peripheral vascular applications

Aortech Biomaterials (Vic) $250,000 Blood regulation devices (including synthetic valves) utilising novel biomaterials for cardiac therapies

ASO Australia (WA) $250,000 Bioconversion scale-up and optimisation

Australian Orthopaedic Innovations (SA) $250,000 Adaptive orthopaedic handpiece

Bioacumen (NSW) $81,940 Bait-oriented broad-spectrum bactericide/fungicide

Biogreen (Vic) $250,000 Biologically enhanced new generation pest control technology

Biotech Ventures (Vic) $105,000 Development of a novel biopesticide for the control of fungal diseases in crop production

Calibre Biotechnology (Vic) $250,000 Design and development of growth factor mimetics and inhibitors

CenTec (NSW) $250,000 Immunomodulatory prevention of Type 1 diabetes

Chinese Medicines Scientific Consultants (NSW) $250,000 Validation of the key components of the herbal formula for relief of irritable bowel syndrome

Combinomics (Qld) $250,000 Sequencing of unsequenceable DNA

Compost Tasmania (Tas) $250,000 Biologically enriched composts for suppression of sclerotial fungi in horticultural crops

CustomVis (CLVR) (WA) $250,000 System for custom refractive laser (eye) surgery

Cyclagen (Qld) $250,000 Development of plant cyclotides as novel crop protection agents

Cystemix (NSW) $249,998 A novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of cancer

DNATech (NSW) $196,000 DNA Tech Smartmarks as an anti-counterfeiting device

FLUOROtechnics (NSW) $250,000 Production scale-up and demonstration of utility of Beljian Red

G2 Therapies (NSW) $250,000 Pre-clinical development of a new therapeutic antibody for inflammatory diseases

Genetic Solutions (Qld) $250,000 High-throughput gene discovery and diagnostic test development in cattle

Genetraks (Qld) $246,380 Diagnostic capacity of gene expression 'signatures' in equine white blood cells in immune-mediated diseases

Hatchtech (Vic) $250,000 Development of a new generation of low-toxicity insecticides for controlling human ecto-parasites

Hepatitis Signal Peptides (Vic) $250,000 Hepatitis Signal Peptides as enhancers of DNA vaccines

Mt Todd Rehabilitation Project (WA) $192,639 A practical low-cost biotechnological treatment system for acid rock drainage

MediHerb (Qld) $250,000 Prove an Echinacea preparation to be quantifiably superior and scientifically demonstrable

Metabolic Pharmaceuticals (Vic) $234,700 Studies of a novel group of iron chelators for the treatment of Transfusional Iron Overload (beta-thalassemia)

Micronix (SA) $250,000 The VAC Cathlocator - a revolutionary medical device for the correct placement of venous access catheters (VAC)

Mimotopes (Vic) $250,000 Development of a new treatment for heart failure

Pro-Active Industries (Vic) $227,250 Back strain monitor

Protagonist (Qld) $198,000 Exploiting natural products for drug development: Evaluation of cyclic tetrapeptides

Pulmosonix (Vic) $250,000 Device for monitoring patency of the upper airway

QRxPharma (Qld) $250,000 Haempatch - a protein isolate aimed at stemming bleeding from surgical and traumatic wounds

Queensland Bioprocessing Technology (Qld) $250,000 Collagen and gelatin upgrade for high-grade pharmaceutical and medical end use

Syngene (Vic) $250,000 Methods for enhancing uptake and specific targeting of oligonucleotides

Tecra International (NSW) $250,000 Genetest diagnostic test

TinniTech (WA) $250,000 Clinical verification of the Acoustic Desensitisation Protocol (ADP) for Tinnitus rehabilitation

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