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Triangle Company On Frontier Of Genetic Research

Posted June 16, 2001 1:43 a.m. EDT

— A Triangle company has a unique vision of the future, one in which what we eat, wear and use will be improved by modifying the genes in living tissue. The people at Paradigm Genetics work in the new science of genomics.

"Of all the products that you buy that are affected by biology, which is almost everything that's out there, this technology will impact everything," says Paradigm CEO John Ryals.

A new industrial revolution is under way -- finding out how genes, the basic building blocks of living things, work.

"We're in the biplane era of this technology. What we're applying it to now are things like human health," Ryals says. "We're also trying to look at new ways of growing agricultural crops, and things like that."

Paradigm's work setting is industrial chic. In its unique Gene Function Factory, researchers work to discover tiny secrets of life.

"We're taking all those processes in discovery that will let you know how something works, and automating everything, and making it run as an assembly line," Ryals says.

The Arabidopsis plant is basically a weed, but a very important weed at Paradigm, because in terms of research, it is the white mouse of the plant world.

Modifying the genes of these plants gives researchers guidance for improving other plant varieties.

"Information that we gather from Arabidopsis can be transferred to other organisms," says Plant Growth Facilities manager Michelle Hylton.

This could perhaps make agricultural products drought or pesticide-resistant.

The Gene Function Factory works like an assembly line. Computer powered, it gathers huge amounts of data.

"We just are high throughput, and we are able to process a lot of data within even one day," says factory team member Betsy Kurnik.

One area Paradigm hopes to enter is the growing area of nutraceutical food products which have "built in" health benefits.