Los Alamos disease-fighting technology showing promise - Albuquerque Journal

Los Alamos disease-fighting technology showing promise

A pathogen-carrying pest known as the glassy-winged sharpshooter has plagued grape vines in California for more than century, but a new technology from Los Alamos National Laboratory could

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Citrus plants treated with immunity technology, left, and untreated plants. Innate Immunity LLC is developing genetically modified proteins that help plants fight disease. (Courtesy Innate Immunity LLC)

soon turn sharpshooter ammunition into blanks.

The technology accelerates innate immune reactions in vines to block the onslaught of disease caused by sharpshooter pathogens. A new startup, Los Alamos-based Innate Immunity LLC, is now working with industry leaders on field trials before broadly deploying the technology to protect California’s $30 billion wine industry, said Pete Downs, acting president of Family Winemakers of California, which represents about 450 wineries.

And grape vines may be just the start, as the technology could be applied to many other crops, and eventually, even to humans.

“It’s exciting stuff,” Downs said. “It has immediate applications that could be very, very important to the wine industry and to agriculture in general.”

Goutam Gupta, a LANL senior scientist for infectious disease research and immunology, helped develop the technology in response to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Gupta, now Innate Immunity’s chief scientific officer, said the technology combines two stages of a three-part process the immune system uses to fight pathogens.

In each stage, the body emits reactive proteins, first to recognize the pathogen, second to signal the body and third to fight it. Pathogens are able to circumvent the individual stages to avoid being killed by the host. So LANL combined proteins from the first and third stages to create a new protein, “chamera,” that effectively blocks a pathogen’s advance.

“We’ve created one protein with two functions,” Gupta said. “It’s non-toxic for the host because we’re generating it with the host’s own proteins. It’s already tolerant.”

One pilot test in California showed success with table grapes. In forthcoming wine grape field tests, chamera will be grafted onto vine seedling roots and propagated.

“The table grape studies showed 100 percent bacteria kill,” Gupta said. “We want to generate it for more pathogens. It could be applied to many diseases, both human and plant included.”

The company is now working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to test chamera against citrus fruit disease in Florida. More testing is planned for cannabis in Colorado.

Innate Immunity plans to produce chamera, research new applications and techniques to apply it, and train scientists and industry representatives to use it, said Innate interim manager Michelle Miller, founder and CEO of High Desert Discovery District.

HD3, a Santa Fe-based startup accelerator, helped form Innate after Gupta presented last March at an HD3 “Discovery Day” for new companies and people with great ideas. Innate is now one of about two dozen startups in the HD3 portfolio.

Another Discovery Day for more agriculture-related technologies will be held at New Mexico State University on Nov. 10.


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