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Science names U gene-modification technique a 2012 top breakthrough

A technique developed by Daniel Voytas, Ph.D., gives researchers unprecedented control over gene modification. (Photo: Tim Rummehoff)

A University of Minnesota research team is responsible for one of 2012’s “breakthroughs of the year,” according to the journal Science.

Daniel Voytas, Ph.D., and colleagues developed a gene-modification technique based on enzymes called TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) that “read” DNA and make pinpoint changes in a targeted gene, offering researchers an unprecedented level of control over gene modification.

With their high level of accuracy, TALENs hold the promise of correcting genetic diseases without the risks associated with past methods of gene modification.

The technique has been used successfully by researchers studying topics as diverse as heart disease and plant productivity.

“It’s exciting to be directly involved with a technology that is changing the way we do biology,” says Voytas, a professor in the Medical School’s Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development and director of the Center for Genome Engineering.

The University has filed a request for a patent on the technique and has licensed the technology to the French biotechnology company Cellectis, which opened a research and development division in the Twin Cities in 2011. Voytas serves as chief science officer for Cellectis plant sciences.

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