Materials & Biotechnology Division

TARRC's Biotechnology Unit Biotechnology Unit



Malaysia has identified biotechnology as a key driver of growth for its economy. This was formally recognised with the launch of Malaysia’s National Biotechnology Policy in April 2005 (www.bic.org.my).

With the Ninth Malaysia Plan, a blueprint for allocation of the national budget, Malaysia has set in place a development programme that will ultimately enable Malaysia to become one of the leading players in biotechnology in the Asia Pacific region.

Following the country’s strategic policy decision, the Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB) created a new Biotechnology Unit at TARRC in order to complement the efforts of the Biotechnology Group that is based in MRB’s Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia; together, the two units endeavour to improve and better utilise natural rubber as an agricultural and pharmaceutical resource. The location of TARRC, just outside London, England, is advantageous due to its close proximity to the leading biotechnology centres of Europe. The Biotechnology Unit has the facilities to perform a wide range of advanced biotechnology techniques, and the unit is also open to act as a base for collaborative or service-based research on Malaysian commodity crops such as oil palm and cocoa.

The Biotechnology Unit was established in 2008 and occupies a space of 275m2 that includes purpose-built laboratories and office space, as well as a bioinformatics facility that contains a 55-core high-performance Linux computing cluster. The laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation including: an ÄKTA Avant 25 (GE Healthcare) for protein purification; a QIAcube (QIAGEN) for nucleic acid purification; an Applied Biosystems’ 7900HT for quantitative PCR and; an Applied Biosystems’ 3130xl Genetic Analyser for DNA sequence analysis. High throughput work within the laboratories is also made possible due to the Innovadyne’s Nanodrop II, a high precision pipetting platform that enables automation of reaction set-up and plate-to-plate transfers.

The unit is currently involved in a range of research projects encompassing the genomics and proteomics of natural rubber. In October 2010, a high-quality draft genome sequence of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) was completed; this task was performed in collaboration with The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) in Norwich, UK, and took just nine months. The Biotechnology Unit is now working to refine the genome’s draft and its annotation, with a focus on commercially-important traits. The second key genomics project involves the development of molecular markers that can be used to enable the rapid identification of rubber tree clones in the field; these SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) markers may reveal whether or not an individual tree is genetically predisposed to a disease or is susceptible to pathogen attack, and can also be used to assist in the selection of favourable genotypes in plant breeding programmes. TARRC’s Biotechnology Unit is looking to advance current SNP work through collaboration with research groups worldwide who are involved in molecular marker development.

The primary research projects in the field of proteomics are currently focused on two key areas: i) diagnostics for latex allergens and, ii) comprehensive characterisation of foreign proteins in transgenic rubber trees. The first project aims to develop a non-instrumental and rapid kit to measure allergenic marker proteins present in manufactured natural rubber, and will initially focus on the detection of two major allergens. When complete, this kit will be used to assess the allergenic potential of manufactured rubber products such as medical gloves. The latter proof-of-concept project was initiated in order to add value to Natural Rubber production enterprise through assessing the possibility of using rubber trees for molecular farming, with the view that foreign proteins could be produced by transgenic rubber trees and subsequently harvested for use by the pharmaceutical industry. Transgenic trees for this project were first produced by the Biotechnology Group of the MRB in Malaysia in 1994, and the focus to date has been on proteins with high industrial importance such as human serum albumin and antibodies against tooth decay.

In addition to the research projects outlined above, the Unit provides a testing facility for the quantification of aqueous extractable protein from natural rubber and its products through the Modified Lowry assay. In-house methods are available for both the American (ASTM D5712-10) and European (EN455-3:2006) standards. The unit was awarded UKAS-accreditation for the in-house method based on ASTM D5712-10 in September 2011, and for the in-house method based on EN455-3:2006 in August 2012. If you are interested in this service, please contact us.

The Unit also provides consultancy services in both biotechnology and bioinformatics through Rubber Consultants. Main areas of expertise within the unit are as follows:

  • Genomics
    • Nucleic acid purification
    • Molecular marker development and validation
    • Genotyping using a range of molecular markers e.g. SNP, AFLP, RFLP and others
    • Genetic mapping
    • QTL mapping
    • Sanger sequencing
    • Gene expression analysis using qPCR
  • Proteomics
    • Gene cloning and protein expression
    • Generation of protein mutants
    • Production of recombinant proteins in E. coli or plant systems
    • Protein purification and protein characterisation
    • Quantitative and qualitative analysis of total protein content
    • Stability and kinetics of protein-protein and protein-antibody interactions
  • Bioinformatics
    • De novo sequence assembly from next generation platforms and Sanger sequencing
    • Functional annotation of genomic sequence
    • Gene and protein sequence analysis
    • Data curation

In addition to the broad range of expertise and services, space in this fully equipped facility can be offered on a bench fee basis and opportunities for training in specialised research techniques are also possible. Experienced personnel are also able to assist with troubleshooting and data interpretation.

For initial enquiries, please contact the Unit Head, Dr Maria Kolesnikova-Allen.

A list of TARRC staff can be found in Organisation structure.

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August 2017
Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre © MMXVII