Tree research has many challenges – do not let DNA isolation to be one of them

By: Modhumita Dasgupta, PhD, Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding

I joined for my doctoral research in sorghum in 1994 in Prof. Ulaganthan’s laboratory at Centre for Plant Molecular Biology, Osmania University, India. In those days, nucleic acid isolation was predominantly done using manual methods. Genomic DNA isolation could be done with ease, while RNA isolation from seeds of sorghum required a significant amount of time, effort and chemical resources. Nevertheless, I could circumvent it with customization of protocol to suit the tissue. Armed with this success, I was pretty confident that I could troubleshoot any challenge in isolating nucleic acid from plant tissues.

Subsequently, I joined as a research scientist at Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding with the zeal to translate my research experience gained while working in a crop species to perennial woody trees. With the confidence of handling molecular biology experiments, I initiated the project on understanding the host-pathogen interaction and isolating antifungal genes in Casuarina equisetifolia, a pulpwood species. My team faced the stiffest challenge when we were unable to isolate high quality DNA and RNA for downstream applications.

Over a period of one and a half years we toiled to optimize a cost-effective protocol for nucleic acid isolation which was tailor-made to handle tree tissues with high phenolic content. The protocol was patented in 2009. The next challenge was to commercialize this technology. Partnering with a commercial firm, Adastra IP (now Aumirah) we realized that the market was conducive for a spin column-based DNA isolation kit as there was no kit specific for tree species. With this knowledge, we again tweaked the protocol to develop a go-to-market product and the trademark “ArborEasy” was registered for branding the product.

The kit was tested by several national laboratories and their feedback was incorporated while developing the product. The road to translating the innovation to a commercial product took 10 long years, not to mention several setbacks and disappointments. But the protocol never failed us, as it worked for several plant tissues, from silica dry leaf samples to 20-year-old wood tissues. Currently, this kit is used to isolate genomic DNA for conducting routine PCR assays, high-throughput SNP/SSR genotyping, whole genome sequencing and genome skimming. One of the most satisfying experiences was when the customized kit was used to create a Guinness World Record at India International Science Festival in 2018 where 550 students in age group of 12-17 years isolated DNA from banana simultaneously.

We were fortunate when Kerafast readily accepted to catalog and market our product with the brand name of ‘ArborEasy’ and signed an agreement to this effect. With my limited experience in product marketing, I feel that a robust outreach is the cornerstone for success of any product in the market. As Thomas Edison opined “Vision without execution is hallucination” – similarly innovation without commercialization is like living in the world of ideas and away from realm of reality.

The ArborEasy® DNA Isolation Kit developed by Dr. Dasgupta is available to scientists worldwide in the Kerafast catalog here. The kit provides a non-biohazardous, low cost spin column based system for isolation of plant genomic DNA from wide range of tissue types, specifically challenging tissues from tree species. Please contact us with any questions.