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Donated Gene Gun on Display at KGI’s Science Heritage Center

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) received a new donation to its Science Heritage Center in September: an original prototype of a vintage 1985-86 Gene Gun. The Gene Gun, or biolistic particle delivery system, was originally designed for delivering exogenous DNA to cells. The device was donated by KGI Advisory Council member Todd Jones, Research Director for the Crop Genome Engineering Group at DuPont Pioneer.

The Gene Gun on display is an original prototype developed by Dr. John C. Sanford, Ed Wolf, and Nelson Allen at Cornell University, with post-doc Ted Klein, from 1983 to 1986. It is one of only seven originals ever produced in the world. In addition to the one at KGI, another is located at the Smithsonian, one is at Cornell, three are at Pioneer, and the location of the seventh is unknown.

The device now on display at KGI is a one-of-a-kind “relic”—even older and more valuable than the biolistic particle gun prototype III on display at the Smithsonian. The Gene Gun is still used extensively, usually in plant biotechnology; however, current technology uses hyper-pressurized helium, while the original Gene Gun technology used .22 caliber cartridges.

The Gene Gun technique revolutionized the science of genetic engineering by giving scientists a means to introduce foreign genes into plant cells and organisms. Current research is investigating potential clinical applications and the treatment of a number of serious medical conditions, including bleeding disorders.

The Science Heritage Center is KGI’s way of celebrating the great inventors of the 20th Century, like Arnold Beckman and Wallace Coulter, who revolutionized the bioscience and diagnostic industries for generations to come. Open to the public, the exhibit consists of more than 50 instruments spanning multiple generations, allowing visitors to trace the technical developments that made each model better than the one that preceded it. Visitors can learn how various inventions developed for government and industrial use have led to breakthroughs in medicine by giving physicians the tools they need to diagnose and manage a variety of diseases and medical conditions.

For more information about the Science Heritage Center, including an audio tour, visit kgi.edu/shc.