Crop Biotech Update

Plant Discovery Leads to Treatment of Leukemia

November 11, 2015

A technology developed for plant research by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL)  scientist Dr. Matt Moscou has helped cure a one-year-old girl of leukemia. Dr. Moscou's research, which centers on how some plants are susceptible to diseases while others are not, has developed a new genome editing technique. The technology was used to precisely edit the genes in bone marrow tissue that was removed from the patient, so that it can be reintroduced back into the patient and promote the establishment of a second bone marrow transplant.

Dr. Moscou was looking at the effect of the bacterium Xanthomonas on crops. The pathogen's genes manipulate the plant's sugar production, increasing sugar in order to feed the bacterium which in turn has a detrimental effect on the plant. To understand how this works, Dr. Moscou discovered the TAL (transcription activator–like) technologies, which enabled him to understand how the genes within the bacteria could change the sugar response in the plant.

"The irony is that bacteria which causes diseases in plant has led to a technology that saves human lives," he said. "When we made this discovery six years ago we could not have predicted where it would lead today, with a little girl now cured of leukemia," he added.

For more information, read the news release at the TSL website.