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Sabah, UK firm sign a bio-prospecting pact

Published on: Friday, January 17, 2014

Kota Kinabalu: The State Government through the Sabah Biodiversity Centre (SaBC) and Protein Technologies Limited (PTL), Manchester, UK signed an agreement Thursday to search for novel fluorescent proteins in the coral triangle.

The programme, which is the State's first international collaboration in biotechnology in marine bio-prospecting, had been allocated RM1.6 million through SaBC for PTL to conduct the two-year discovery programme.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) through the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI) will assist in terms of providing support services such as laboratory facilities, bio-prospecting, identification and description of specimens, DNA extraction and sequencing.

A separate agreement will be signed later between UMS and PTl for this purpose. PTL will perform analysis of DNA sequences and fluorescent protein genes, expression and purification of fluorescent proteins.

"By performing some of the research activities in Sabah, this will hopefully minimise the movement of Sabah's important biological resources out of the State, thus providing, to some extent, protection to our biological resources," said SaBC Director Dr Abdul Fatah Amir.

The discovery and applications of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) led to the award of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2008.

GFP is one of the most important proteins used in biological and medical research, having been extensively engineered as a visual marker of gene expression, protein localisation and protein to protein interactions.

Despite its impact on biomedical research, GFP is limited in its applications in terms of brightness, stability and an inherent structural inability to emit in the highly-prized near infrared region.

The novel fluorescent proteins SaBC, PTL and UMS hope to find will have been driven by intense evolutionary pressures to outperform GFP in these and other respects and thereby permit a variety of enhanced biotechnological applications.

These applications would include in vivo and molecular imaging for identification and treatment of cancer tumours and metastasis to drug discovery.

"This research, although academic in nature, has great commercial potential, which is the main reason this research was selected by the Sabah Biodiversity Centre," said Fatah.

He continued that there are few other biotechnology-related programmes that are going to be implemented this year by the centre.

"One such programme is the drug discovery project, a continued collaboration with the Natural Product Lab of UMS, in which UMS will continue to produce chemical compounds from selected biological resources in the State.

"Such compounds will then be evaluated for their potential application as therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, inflammation, diabetes and hypertension," he said, adding that a biotechnology service provider to perform such evaluations had been identified and will be launched in the middle of this year.

Fatah said he hoped more potential commercial-oriented projects can be identified in the future.

Representing PTL for the MoU signing was PTL Chief Scientist Officer, Dr Mohammad Farid Khan.