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Antarctic Enzyme Enters $BN DNA Testing Market

Antarctic Enzyme Enters Billion Dollar International DNA Testing Market

February 16, 2006

Antarctic Enzyme Enters Billion Dollar International DNA Testing Market

An enzyme derived from a micro-organism found in a volcanic vent in Antarctica by New Zealand scientists is being launched onto the billion dollar global DNA extraction market.

ZyGEM Corporation's new reagent extracts DNA from - smaller samples - three times faster and at - greatly lower cost than other existing extraction methods.

Another difference with ZyGEM's reagent is that samples are processed in a single unopened tube. It is expected to help tackle the major international crime sample DNA testing backlog.

The enzyme was isolated from a bacterium within a collection of 700 bacteria, some of which were found in Antarctica by university researchers. The innovation has taken 20 years to come to market. The intellectual property has been acquired by ZyGEM Corporation, of New Zealand, formerly called PacificGEM.

At an official launch being attended by the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Helen Clark, ZyGEM this evening also announces its first commercial sale, to the animal genetic testing service of New Zealand's Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC).

The lineage of tens of thousands of animals, including dairy cows, beef, deer and sheep, will now be determined each year using ZyGEM's animal DNA extraction product prepGEMTM. LIC's GeneMark DNA service, based at Hamilton, New Zealand, used lineage information to improve breeds and boost agricultural productivity.

ZyGEM is now launching the product to major reagent users – and DNA testing equipment, robotics makers and research institutions – in the United States, Europe and the UK.

The company has offices in San Diego and New Zealand and will soon establish another office in Europe.

ZyGEM's initial products are being marketed as forensicGEM (to extract human DNA from crime scene samples) phytoGEM (plants) and prepGEM (animals).

Several major DNA extraction companies in the United States, European Union and New Zealand, have now signed to use the new reagent and process in evaluation trials.

ZyGEM Chief Executive Dr Adrian Hodgson, says using the process requires no new equipment, no retooling and uses fewer staff and laboratory space while allowing a significant rise in the number of samples a single person can process each day.

Using ZyGEM's reagent, one person can process around 10,000 samples a day, compared with 3000 by the nearest reagent competitor.

"When you need one person to do the work of three, that means major savings for some companies processing – or wanting to process – millions of samples a year," Hodgson says.

Modelling shows ZyGEM's reagent will process 500,000 samples for about a third of the cost of competing products.

"That represents a major competitive advantage for ZyGEM's clients."

Unlike other reagents, the product does not need to be shipped frozen or on ice. It is also more easily handled by robotic equipment.

Because the sample never leaves the tube, where it is subjected to a unique ZyGEM heat cycling process, there is also less chance of contaminating samples and infecting laboratory staff.

Hodgson says the heat-stable enzyme and process are covered by patents and trade secrets. It faces no extra regulatory barriers to being used immediately.

Future uses are expected to include human DNA disease diagnostics, bio security (to quickly extract RNA, for example, from strains of avian or a pandemic flu virus) and crop genetic screening. Already phytoGEM is believed to be the world's first single enzymatic, single tube extraction process for plant DNA.

In the US, because of growing case numbers, crime fighters can now wait an average of eight months for DNA testing, twice the time it took in 1999.

A December 2003 Washington State University study, based on information provided by US law enforcement and criminal forensic laboratories in 50 states, suggested there were untested samples from as many as a 500,000 crime cases, 250,000 of them unsolved rapes and homicides since 1982.

Hodgson says the adoption of a faster, cheaper, simpler, more accurate DNA extraction process could see tens of thousands more suspects identified.


Some key facts on ZyGEM:

- ZyGEM's reagent speeds up the slowest part of the genetic analysis process, reducing the time from sample-to-analysis, depending on the sample type, from 60 minutes to just 15, and 120 minutes to just 20

- ZyGEM's reagent is more easily handled by robotics

- The totally unique single, closed-tube cycling, process allows for

- Far greater volumes of DNA to be extracted from a sample, ensuring

- Less sample contamination

- More accurate results

- Less risk of laboratory staff infection

- A world-leading single enzymatic, single tube extraction process for plants

- Results can be achieved from extremely small samples, often not possible with other techniques (e.g. forensic trace samples, like a few skin cells from fingerprints), offering significant benefits in some areas like forensics

- Enzyme activity peaks at 75 deg C, others at 37 deg C, allowing a pre mixture reagents to be made which do not degrade at 37 deg C.

- The product is stable and can be shipped, unlike other reagents, without freezing or using ice (delivering further cost savings, the monetary value of which is now being modelled)

- Standard fermentation techniques are used, ensuring ample supplies are available for the world market

- It is a purely substitute technique, avoiding the need for any additional special training or new equipment

- Use of ZyGEM's reagent will deliver major commercial gains (early users will becoming more competitive in the world market)

- Its forensic use enable hundreds of thousands of backlogged cases, involving serious crimes, to be progressed more quickly

- Other social and economic gains will be made through its use in bio security (providing a rapid method of isolating RNA in bird flu, for example, or hazardous materials identification); human genetic disease testing, and crop and animal DNA improvement programmes.


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