News Article | November 28, 2015
The largest animal cloning factory in the world is now likely underway in China — a path “no one has ever travelled” in cattle cloning and meeting the country’s skyrocketing demand for beef. The projected 14,000-square-meter factory will be built and operated by Boyalife, which is allotting 200 million yuan ($313 million) for the project. Tianjin, a city situated about 100 miles from the Chinese capital, will be the site of the grand venture to be started in the first half of next year. According to Boyalife's chief exectuive Xiao-Chun Xu, they are hoping at the moment to produce 100,000 cow embryos annually and to contribute five percent of China's premium cattle. “We are building something that has not existed in the past,” said Xu in an interview. Boyalife scientists will also explore cloning champion racehorses as well as sniffer dogs that can assist in rescue operations or detect illegal drugs. Xu added that helping save critically endangered species is another one of their targets. “This is going to change our world and our lives,” the CEO said of the factory, which is among the latest moves of China to lead in cloning technology worldwide. According to a Hong Kong publication, mainland Chinese scientists have already been cloning pigs, sheep, and cattle for around 15 years now. Another media outlet reported last year that Chinese firm BGI was cloning on an industrial level in the city of Shenzhen, said to be producing 500 cloned pigs per year. The planned cloning factory is built in partnership with Sooam Biotech, a South Korean firm run by Seoul-based Hwang Woo-suk. Hwang, once dubbed the “king of cloning,” was found guilty in 2006 of fraud and gross ethical lapses in his research and ways of obtaining human eggs for his lab work. In a conference call held on Thursday, Nov. 26, Xu tried to quash anxieties over the new project and the technology behind it. “Clone technology is already around us. It’s just that not everyone knows about it,” he said, citing that bananas and strawberries sold in Chinese grocery stores were produced by this very technology. He likened the process to “pouring a glass of orange juice into another empty glass,” implying that the cloned product will be an exact copy of the original one. He also noted that cloned beef is the “tastiest” beef he has ever had. In the United Kingdom, cloned cow meat and milk products are classified as “novel foods” and need to come with a special permission to be sold. The Food Standards Agency in 2010 investigated beef coming from the offspring of a cow cloned in the U.S. entering the food chain. The European Food Safety Authority — while pointing out no difference between meat and dairy from clones and conventionally raised animals — said cloning may lead to animal health and welfare issues. It underlined the impact the process has on the increasing number of deaths at all stages of development. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled cloned animals as safe to eat. Although the Chinese cloning factory operation appeard to be smaller than American firms seeking to sell cloned livestock, most cloned cattle in the U.S. serve as breeding stock for raising herd quality rather than for food supply.
Rienzi L.,Genera Center For Reproductive Medicine |
Vajta G.,BGI |
Ubaldi F.,Genera Center For Reproductive Medicine
Human Reproduction Update | Year: 2011
Background: Non-invasive selection of developmentally competent human oocytes may increase the overall efficiency of human assisted reproduction and is regarded as crucial in countries where legal, social or religious factors restrict the production of supernumerary embryos. The purpose of this study was to summarize the predictive value for IVF success of morphological features of the oocyte that can be obtained by light or polarized microscopic investigations. Methods: Studies about oocyte morphology and IVF/ICSI outcomes were identified by using a systematic literature search. Results: Fifty relevant articles were identified: 33 analysed a single feature, 9 observed multiple features and investigated the effect of these features individually, 8 summarized the effect of individual features. Investigated structures were the following: meiotic spindle (15 papers), zona pellucida (15 papers), vacuoles or refractile bodies (14 papers), polar body shape (12 papers), oocyte shape (10 papers), dark cytoplasm or diffuse granulation (12 papers), perivitelline space (11 papers), central cytoplasmic granulation (8 papers), cumulus-oocyte complex (6 papers) and cytoplasm viscosity and membrane resistance characteristics (2 papers). None of these features were unanimously evaluated to have prognostic value for further developmental competence of oocytes. Conclusions: No clear tendency in recent publications to a general increase in predictive value of morphological features was found. These contradicting data underline the importance of more intensive and coordinated research to reach a consensus and fully exploit the predictive potential of morphological examination of human oocytes. © The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
The first genome of a gecko species hints at the basis of its ability to regrow tails and climb walls. More than 1,400 species of gecko inhabit temperate areas across the world. A team led by Huanming Yang at BGI in Shenzhen and Xiaosong Gu at Nantong University, both in China, sequenced the genome of Schlegel's Japanese gecko (Gekko japonicus; pictured) and identified more than 22,000 genes. Comparisons with other reptile and vertebrate genomes show that geckos diverged from other lizards around 200 million years ago, after the split of two supercontinents. The gecko genome harbours dozens of copies of β-keratin genes — expressed in hair-like growths called setae that help the animal to cling to vertical surfaces. Expression of two genes that make the hormone prostaglandin increased in geckos after their tails had been amputated, suggesting a role for this hormone in regeneration.
Clues to novel treatments could be gleaned from people who aren’t sick, but should be. The hunt is on for people who are healthy—even though their genes say they shouldn’t be. A massive search through genetic databases has found evidence for more than a dozen “genetic superheroes,” people whose genomes contain serious DNA errors that cause devastating childhood illnesses but who say they aren’t sick. The new study is part of a trend toward studying the DNA of unusually healthy people to determine if there’s something about them that can be discovered and bottled up as a treatment for everyone else. There’s already evidence from large families afflicted by genetic disease that some members are affected differently—or not at all. The current study took a different approach, scouring DNA data collected on 589,306 mostly unrelated individuals, and is the “the largest genome study to date,” according to Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York. “There hasn’t been nearly enough attention paid to looking at healthy people’s genomes,” says Eric Topol, a cardiologist and gene scientist at the Scripps Institute. “This confirms that there are many people out there that should be manifesting disease but aren’t. It’s a lesson from nature.” The researchers, led by Stephen Friend, president of Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit based in Seattle, and genome scientist Eric Schadt of Mount Sinai, reported today in Nature Biotechnology how they looked for people with mutations in any of 874 genes that should doom them to a childhood of pain or misery, but whose medical records or self-reports didn’t indicate any problem. In the end, they found 13 people who qualify as genetic “superheroes” but, under medical privacy agreements, were unable to contact them. That meant the scientists weren’t able to learn what’s actually different about them. “It’s like you got the box and couldn’t take the wrapping off,” Friend said during a media teleconference last week. The team consulted DNA data from nearly 400,000 people provided by 23andMe, the direct-to-consumer testing company. The team also used more detailed genome information contributed by BGI, a large genome center in China, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. “The best approach to discovering large numbers of resilient individuals will involve data sharing on a global scale, involving many sequencing projects,” says Daniel MacArthur, who developed a pooled DNA database at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he says also holds evidence of resilient individuals. Some companies, including the biotechnology company Regeneron (see “The Search for Exceptional Genomes”), have already started large searches for people whose genes seem to protect them against disease. Regeneron's focus is on common illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Mayana Zatz, a geneticist in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who studies large families affected by inherited disease, says she’s found instances where people seem to dodge genetic destiny. For example, she located two Brazilian half-brothers with the same mutation that causes muscular dystrophy, but while one was in a wheelchair at age nine, the other is 16 and has no symptoms. Zatz says the reason could be some other gene that “rescues” the patient, or perhaps environmental factors. She says women are more often found to be resilient than men, though the reason isn’t clear. Friend says his “extraordinarily large pilot” study is meant to determine if the same sort of discoveries made by looking at affected families could be made by dredging large DNA databases. “The purpose was to see if the technology is ready, and worth the effort, and we think the answer is yes,“ he says.
Despite a dismal beginning to earnings season, as Amyris, Arcadia disappoint, the Eco-Emirates of Emeryville look set for huge expansion in 2016. In California, Amyris (AMRS) reported Q4 revenues of $9.6mn and a net loss for Q4 of $41.9 million ($34 million after elimination of non-recurring items), well below Wall Street consensus estimates of $32.4 million. “The fourth quarter resulted in our best renewable product sales quarter to date during 2015 while also highlighting our challenge in completing our product finishing and shipping in time for one of our customers,” said Amyris CEO John Melo, who noted in a call with investors that a $15 million revenue chunk was pushed into 2016 via a production delay. Meanwhile, Arcadia Biosciences (RKDA) also took a beating, reporting $1.3 million in Q4 revenues, down by more than haf from 2014, and a net loss of $4.1 million for the quarter, compared with $1.6 million in Q4 2014. Arcadia also blamed timing, with interim CEO Roger Salameh noting that “While a major financial milestone was not recognized in 2015, we have made multiple advancements for our later-stage products that have the potential to lead to future milestone payments and, ultimately, to commercialization of our pipeline.” Two items to note. 2016 revenue guidance of $90 million -$105 million. And, a planned sale of “ non-core assets expected to generate approximately $40 million-$60 million in net proceeds.” We’ll have to see what those non-core assets exactly are. All that Amyris would say is that those assets are generating 10% of the revenues and 20% of the costs. Highlights for Amyris at year-end? From a volume point of view, the highlight may well be a record quarter in squalane shipments and recently-launched hemisqualane. Or, new major agreements with two mystery partners for farnesene applications related to nutraceuticals and polymers and converted two other partners from collaborations to farnesene supply agreements supporting Brotas plant utilization expectations through 2020 But we note the successful launch of the Biossance Beauty Brand on HSN last month with what Amyris described as “better-than-expected sales metrics, leading to increased number of shows planned for 2016 that will feature expanding line of products.” Also, let’s not overlook Muck Daddy, perhaps the most strikingly-named product ever to appear out of the bioindustrial revolution. Here, Amyris points to “successful AAPEX and SEMA automotive aftermarket trade show presence and SCORE International (Baja racing series) and Pirelli World Challenge (PWC racing series) sponsorships.” GAAP revenues were $9.8 million, compared with $11.6 million for the fourth quarter of 2014, and $8.6 million for the third quarter of 2015. The increase from Q3 2015 was despite a delay in a large product shipment to a collaboration partner anticipated for Q4 2015. Product sales in Q4 2015 of $5.2 million, compared to $4.7 million in Q4 2014 and $4.2 million in Q3 2015. Collaboration and grants revenues contributed $4.6 million to total GAAP revenues for the quarter, down from $6.9 million in Q4 2014, and increased from $4.4 million in Q3 2015. Cost of products sold increased to $11.3 million for Q4 2015 from $9.3 million for the same period a year ago driven by higher sales, product mix and a higher yielding pilot run of our latest farnesene strain. Net loss attributable to Amyris common stockholders for the fourth quarter of 2015 was $41.9 million, or $0.23 per basic share and $0.28 per diluted basis. Adjusted net loss, excluding non-recurring items, and excluding stock-based compensation, was $34.0 million, or $0.16 per basic share. “We expect to complete a significant portion of the delayed product shipment during the current quarter with the remainder later in the year,” said Amyris CEO John Melo, “and continue to make very good progress in the expansion of our collaboration portfolio. We entered 2016 with key commitments in place for farnesene applications, which represent a substantial percentage of our total planned annual farnesene production volume for 2016. The volumes we expect under these farnesene supply agreements represent initial supplies for high-volume applications, and alone, could fully utilize our Brotas plant through the end of 2016.” Melo added, “We are focusing on our core business, which is driven by solving supply challenges, delivering innovative products and providing our partners with a strategic advantage underpinned by high-performance, sustainable products. We expect our key results for 2016 to include divestment of non-core assets that we believe will generate approximately $40 million to $60 million of net proceeds, closing new collaborations in personal care and pharmaceutical industries and delivering on our farnesene supply agreements.” Revenue in the qtr was soft & further magnified due to timing of shipments. Record low farnesene production costs and the continued launch of consumer products gives us confidence in our stock assumptions going forward. The Q4 equity raise helped to delever the BS, but we would continue to look for a steadier stream of commercialized product introductions to get more constructive on the stock. Amyris reported GAAP Revenues of $9.6mn, significantly below both Cowen and the Street’s ests. of $36.3mn and $32.4mn. Amyris continues to find success commercializing its various products/technologies. It advanced fiver major applications in 2015, and continued to apply its products in a wide variety of end markets, including tire manufacturers, fragrance companies, and various industrial and healthcare applications. Given Amyris’s expanding product lines and the commercialization of new products in 2016 we are using an EV/Sales multiple of ~4.5X. The resulting price target is $2.00 (prior $2.50). As new molecules are introduced and the direct to consumer new products hit shelves, we could see upside to our estimates. However, we are taking a wait and see approach on execution before getting more constructive on the stock. Arcadia Biosciences announced Q4 revenues of $1.3 million and for 2015, $5.4 million, down from Q4 2014’s $2.8 million and full-year 2014 revenues of $7.0 million. According to Arcadia, “the decrease primarily reflected lower license revenues, as the fourth quarter of 2014 included a major milestone not replicated in the fourth quarter of 2015,” said interim CEO Roger Salameh. But the company continues on its path. Salemeh added, “We’re maintaining a consistent level of funding for R&D and SG&A to support our growth, while continuing to tightly manage expenses. We’re particularly pleased with the regulatory, commercial and intellectual property advancements we’ve made this year and we continue to manage our pipeline to focus on those products and crops that create the greatest value for our grower customers, our commercial partners and our stockholders,” said Salameh. Investors might well rue that “a major financial milestone was not recognized in 2015,” but there are some big wins that are worth noting. In December, Dow AgroSciences and Arcadia announced a strategic collaboration to develop and commercialize yield and stress traits and trait stacks in corn. The collaboration leverages Arcadia’s leading platform of abiotic stress traits with Dow AgroSciences’ enabling technology platforms, input traits, regulatory capabilities and commercial channels. In the same month, Arcadia and BGI, the world’s largest genomics organization, announced a collaboration to create an extensive rice genetic resource library to advance food crop research and development. And, In October, two years of field trials in Africa with leading lines of Nitrogen Use Efficient (NUE) rice demonstrated an average yield increase of 19 percent over the conventional control lines. Revenues for the quarter were $1.3 million and for the year were $5.4 million, compared with $2.8 million for the fourth quarter and $7.0 million for the full year 2014. The decrease primarily reflected lower license revenues, as the fourth quarter of 2014 included a major milestone not replicated in the fourth quarter of 2015. Operating expenses for the full years of 2015 and 2014 included $596,000 and $1.7 million in non-cash inventory reserves, respectively, for the company’s GLA safflower oil product. The company’s loss from operations for both the fourth quarter and the full year of 2015 was greater when compared with the loss from operations for the similar time periods in 2014. Lower revenues and increased operating expenses led to a loss from operations of $4.1 million in the fourth quarter, compared with $1.6 million for the same period in 2014. For the full year, loss from operations was $15.6 million in 2015 compared with a loss from operations of $15.2 million in 2014 as reduced operating expenses partially offset lower revenues for the year. In the investor call, Graham Wells of Credit Suisse asked “if there any traits in particular that we, as investors, and the market should take a particular interest in following, anything that you’re really excited about over the next 12 to 24 months?” Salemeh responded, “I’m excited about all of them, that’s why we take the portfolio approach. But I think over the next 12 to 24 months, traits, staying with the traits for the moment, you should be thinking about HB4 Stress Tolerance in soybeans, Nitrogen Use Efficiency in rice and wheat, and salt tolerance in rice. Those are from the productivity side. Those are, I think, the most exciting traits. From the product quality side, one trait that we probably haven’t talked about much but is an important one, and I think could be pretty significant value driver for the company is resistance starch wheat. And one of the things that I’m particularly excited about with that trait trade is it’s a non-GM product that’s really about human nutrition. We’re in advanced stages of breeding and field development. And the pathway to commercialization, frankly, is about being in competitive breeding programs and just scaling up volume to meet our customers’ demand.” Traits a-go-go (in the case of Arcadia) and tripling of revenues (in the case of Amyris). Those strike us as the major takeaways from this quarterly round. Although, amongst other things beginning with a T, investors are probably emphasizing that the Time for Take-Off is Today, not Tomorrow.