What is a Plasmid Exactly? The Rare Disease Challenge: Supporting Scientists to Accelerate Disease Research

November 1, 2012

Share and Share Alike – Addgene joins Assay Depot and the Rare Genomics Institute on the Rare Disease Challenge: Be HEARD—Helping Empower and Accelerate Research Discoveries.

Scientists do a lot of shopping, but not at the stores you usually frequent. Amazon doesn’t carry the nuts and bolts materials of scientific research and you can’t go to Target to get them. Scientists have their own special stores and often acquire supplies by asking colleagues to share their materials, especially if they are working on the same scientific problems. Addgene is a unique, non-profit company whose mission is to facilitate collaboration and reagent sharing in the research community. Addgene is a scientific supply house that serves researchers in all areas of the life sciences, including those working hard to find cures for rare genetic diseases. Addgene operates a repository for a research reagent called a plasmid. Plasmids are important for understanding basic biology and for making advances in biomedical research. They are one of the most commonly used tools in a molecular biology lab.

What is a plasmid exactly? Let’s begin with genes, which are naturally found on chromosomes that contain hundreds of genes—the longest chromosome contains 249,240,621 DNA base pairs and 4,234 genes. To study a specific gene more easily, for example one that is known to be the cause of a genetic disease, scientists will often isolate the gene from the chromosome. This isolated gene is then studied on a smaller circle of DNA which contains only about 10,000 DNA base pairs. These small DNA circles are called plasmids. Since laboratories study many different genes in many different ways, there are thousands of unique plasmids available in the scientific community.

Addgene collects plasmids from all over the world and then stores them in a library for distribution to laboratories in over 60 countries. The repository contains over 20,000 unique plasmids deposited by leading scientists including, for example, stem cell pioneers and 2012 Nobel Prize winners Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon. Addgene distributes over 300 plasmids each day to scientists who need these materials for their research. By making it easier for scientists to find and share plasmid reagents, Addgene hopes to accelerate research, especially for the discovery of novel cures and therapies for human disease.

Addgene is always looking for new ways to support scientists, encourage collaboration and to grow its community of depositors and requestors. This year Addgene entered into a partnership with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) to assemble a collection of plasmid DNA samples for use in Parkinson’s Disease research. This collection, the Parkinson’s Disease Plasmid Resource, will be curated and distributed by Addgene to life science researchers around the globe to increase collaboration in the community of scientists working on this terrible disease.

Addgene is proud to be joining Assay Depot and the Rare Genomics Institute on the Rare Disease Challenge: Be HEARD—Helping Empower and Accelerate Research Discoveries. Researchers will write grant proposals focused on their selected rare disease to compete for a cash prize and donated resources to support their research. As a silver sponsor, Addgene will be contributing $5,000 in plasmid reagents to be used by winners of the grant challenge. The “Be HEARD” sponsors and participants hope to supply useful resources to the most promising projects and in this way accelerate rare disease research. We are very excited to be participating and to support this worthy cause, as the Rare Disease Challenge exemplifies the importance of sharing and collaboration in medical research.

Dr. Kamens is the Executive Director of Addgene, a mission driven, non-profit dedicated to helping scientists around the world collaborate. She received her PhD in Genetics from Harvard Medical School then spent 15 years at BASF/Abbott, ultimately serving as Group Leader in Molecular Biology.  In 2007 she joined RXi Pharmaceuticals as Director of Discovery and concluded there as Senior Director of Research Collaborations.  She has been raising awareness of women scientists since 1998 upon realizing that an entire week had gone by at work and not one other woman had been at any meeting she attended.  Follow her on Twitter: @jkamens  

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