[ASC-media] CSIRO: PM's Science Prize awarded to gene silencing duo - Dr Peter Waterhouse and Dr Ming-Bo Wang

Rebecca.Eveleigh at csiro.au Rebecca.Eveleigh at csiro.au
Thu Sep 20 06:13:34 CEST 2007

Ref 07/188

PM's Science Prize awarded to gene silencing duo

The 2007 Prime Minister's Prize for Science has been awarded to two
CSIRO scientists for their discovery and development of a gene silencing
mechanism that is causing a revolution in crop, medical and livestock
research around the world. 

CSIRO Plant Industry researchers Dr Peter Waterhouse and Dr Ming-Bo Wang
discovered double-stranded RNA-induced gene silencing in plants, a
naturally occurring mechanism evolved to turn down or switch off the
activity of genes, following an observation made while working to
understand how plants protect themselves from virus attack. 

Gene silencing has since been developed into a highly effective tool for
gene discovery and determining gene function in humans, animals, plants
and insects.

"Once we found the gene silencing mechanism we knew we were onto
something big. We felt confident that if we could learn how to direct
it, we would be able to control different types of plant genes for
different purposes," Dr Waterhouse said.   

The Canberra-based team's first success was when they used gene
silencing to enable plant genes to resist diseases, including Barley
Yellow Dwarf Virus, which can cause yield losses of about 15-25 per cent
in cereals such as wheat and barley. 

"Since then we've worked to improve the efficiency of our technology,
making it an extremely precise, rapid and user-friendly tool for
identifying genes and their function," Dr Waterhouse said.

The CSIRO gene silencing technology is currently used in more than 3,000
laboratories around the world on a diverse range of projects, including
developing new crop varieties, and it holds tremendous promise as a
therapeutic agent to control disease in humans and animals.

"CSIRO's Food Futures Flagship is using our technology to develop
oilseeds with a high omega-3 content and wheat with high levels of
resistant starch, both of which are important for human health," Dr Wang

"Overseas examples include a national program to develop rice that is
resistant to rice stripe virus in China, improving the yield and
nutritional value of cassava in Africa and a US project using the
technology to make antibodies in plants for the treatment of human
diseases including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and inflammatory conditions
such as arthritis."

The $300,000 Prime Minister's Prize for Science, the nation's premier
science award, is presented to Australian scientists who promote human
welfare through an outstanding achievement in science or technology.

Image available at: www.scienceimage.csiro.au/mediarelease/mr07-188.html

Podcast available at: www.csiro.au/multimedia/GeneSilencingPodcast.html 

Further Information: 

Dr Peter Waterhouse
CSIRO Plant Industry
0408 476 955; 02 6246 5365
peter.waterhouse at csiro.au

Dr Ming-Bo Wang
CSIRO Plant Industry
02 6246 5197
ming-bo.wang at csiro.au 

Media Assistance:

Jane Kahler
CSIRO Plant Industry
02 6246 5077; 0419 494 137
jane.kahler at csiro.au 

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Beck Eveleigh
Media Assistant
CSIRO Media Liaison
6276 6451
0409 395 010

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