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Mizzou awarded biotech grant

By Julie Bierach, KWMU St. Louis

July 19, 2007 – Scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia have been awarded a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study the development and improvement of minichromosome technology.

It could lead to the improved development of crops resistant to viruses, insects, fungi, bacteria and herbicides.

A minichromosome is a smaller version of a chromosome, which is a threadlike strand of DNA that carries genes and transmits hereditary information.

Under the five-year grant, researchers will study how to stack genes on the minichromosomes. Dr. James Birchler is the principal investigator in the study. He says by stacking genes scientists could create crops that have multiple beneficial traits.

"To continue to add new genes for various stress resistance, for example, drought resistance is one that could be added in the near future to the small chromosome. And it will all be inherited from generation to the next," Birchler said.

Minichromosomes could be used for biopharming, which is the inexpensive production of pharmaceutical compounds.

Scientists may also be able to use them to develop plants better suited for the production of biofuel.

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