Nicotine Content in Cigarettes to Now be Controlled by Patents
22nd Century Group – the plant biotechnology company that focuses on smoking cessation aids and tobacco control – has just announced that it has been awarded a Notice of Allowance for a patent by the USPTO. This patent is related to the technology developed by the company that allows nicotine levels in tobacco plants to be increased or decreased by controlling the transcription factor gene NbTF7 which regulates the synthesis of nicotine in tobacco plants via multiple pathways.
New age approach to tobacco control
Patent lawyers representing 22nd Century Group have said that the company’s efforts to control nicotine levels in tobacco plants are part of its smoking cessation efforts. The recent patent is the latest in the company’s series of patents for second generation technology used in controlling nicotine and nicotinic alkaloids in tobacco plants. Dr. Michael Moynihan, who heads Century’s Research and Development Wing, has stated in an interview that the company is very happy with the USPTO’s verdict and hope that both the low nicotine and high nicotine plant varieties produced by the company will have a commercial market soon.
The patent filed by Century’s representative patent lawyers was numbered Patent Application No. 12/601,752, and titled NUCLEIC ACID SEQUENCES ENCODING TRANSCRIPTION FACTORS REGULATING ALKALOID BIOSYNTHESIS AND THEIR USE IN MODIFYING PLANT METABOLISM. According to the information given out by the company, the patent deals with using genetic methods of producing tobacco and tobacco cells with altered nicotine levels. The transcription factor NbTF7 also known as NbARF1, has been shown to be useful in regulating nicotine levels in tobacco growing plants in the International Patent Application PCT/IB2008/003131. The US Patent Application 12/601,752, filed by the patent lawyers of the 22nd Century Group is derived from the international patent precedent and belongs to same family of patents.
Understanding the patent
The patent filed by Century for its new technology of controlling nicotine biosynthesis using transcription factor NbTF7 belongs to an international patent family which has the following claims:
a) Nucleic acids coding for every one of the six transcription factor genes which manage the multiple nicotine biosynthesis genes either positively or negatively
b) Method of production of tobacco plants with varied nicotine levels (either lower or higher than normal unmodified plants) by regulating the expression of the six transcription factor genes controlling the pathway. The regulation method can include both up-regulation and down-regulation mechanisms
c) Production of tobacco green plants, tobacco cells, and other tobacco products using these above mentioned methods
What the 22nd Century Group aims to achieve by using this patented technology is to produce tobacco plants with extremely low levels of nicotine or Very Low Nicotine plants (VLN). This can be done by down-regulating the expression of the TF genes controlling nicotine biosynthesis in the plants.
The method that the Century Group’s patent lawyers are seeking the patent approval for allows this alteration in nicotine levels by the controlled expression of only one of the six transcription factors present in the plant. The technology when implemented will not result in any foreign genes present in the final tobacco product. As such the actual plant created by using this technology will not be labeled as a GMO or ‘Genetically Modified Organism’ under US patent laws.
22nd Century Group’s patents portfolio
The current patent that the group expects to be granted will expire in 2028 and will add a new feather to the company’s already impressive patent portfolio. In the US alone, the company has over 17 issued patents and 13 more filed by its patent lawyers that are awaiting approval. Most of the patents filed by Century are related to nicotine biosynthesis in tobacco growing plants and the genetic methods of regulating this synthesis. With this, Century can produce a nicotine cigarette with the tiniest of nicotine amounts that would have 98% lower nicotine than the lightest of the ‘light’ cigarettes available today.