Fairbanks, Alaska- The first royalties for a genetic sequencing patent that acts like a molecular switch to expose encrypted characteristics of genes has netted University of Alaska Fairbanks biochemist John Keller $10,000. He received royalties from Research Corporation Technologies, a biotech company in Tucson, Ariz. examining how Keller's patented sequence can be used to improve medical research and treatment.
The patent, issued jointly in 1993 to Keller and the university, covers a genetic sequence that can turn on or off the expression of genetic traits encoded in sections of DNA. Keller's lab pioneered genetic engineering in the state when the first gene cloning experiments were conducted at UAF in 1987.
Recognized as the double-helical structure of heredity, DNA resembles a spiraling ladder with alternating phosphates and sugars forming the legs and nucleotide base pairs making up the rungs. Although the nucleotide pairs are represented by only four lettersA,C,T and G they combine in infinite varieties to create the language of life.
Keller's "switch" is actually a repressor protein that grabs a section of nucleotide base pairs and prevents further decoding of genetic characteristics encrypted in the nucleotide pairs. The only way to release the switch protein is to introduce an amino acid called a "2,2-dialkylglycine." This tongue-tying amino acid hooks into the repressor protein, loosening its hold on the targeted section of DNA and thereby allowing the decoding process to continue. The process is also reversible, Keller said.
In his lab at UAF, Keller worked with several students to successfully clone and control the switch in the bacteria E. coli. The strain of E. coli used in Keller's research differs from the beneficial strain existing in the digestive tract of humans or toxic strains that can exist in poorly prepared food.