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Cancer Research May Help Biofuels

Nearly a decade ago, Tom Todaro was talking to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center about techniques the institute had devised to slow down tumor// growth by slowing the rate at which tumor cells divide.

Then they had an idea. Why not exploit the reaction in reverse and get cells to grow faster?

The result was Targeted Growth, a company that has come up with techniques for increasing crop yields with canola, corn and other crops. In their natural state, these crops stop growing after a certain point in the season. Targeted Growth manipulates a plant's genetic code so the cells continue to divide past their ordinary stopping point.

In the end, the genetic manipulation leads to increased seed size and seed count. In experiments, the technique has increased overall crop yield by as much as 20 percent. It also works in a similar fashion in different plants.

"It turns out that cell cycle regulating pathways are genetically similar," he said in an interview. "Cell division is the fundamental component in life, if you think about it."

This week Capricorn Management, the investment firm of former eBay President Jeff Skoll, led a $22.3 million investment in the company. With the influx of cash, Targeted is going to test out how its technology works in a wider variety of crops in a diverse range of ecosystems.

The company, which licenses technology from the Hutchinson Center but also has devised its own technologies, does not integrate foreign genes into a plant, which creates so-called transgenic plants. Instead, it removes genes from a species, modifies them and then reinserts them.

Founded in 1999, the company has primarily worked with agribusiness concerns like Monsanto but in the past few years has begun to more closely examine using its technology for ethanol and biodiesel production. Alternative fuels have become a major focus of interest for universities, governments, the p
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