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From Pharm to Fuel: The Future of GM Food

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Monsanto had fought long and hard for more than two decades to protect its rBST product Posilac from consumer defeat. After all, Posilac had been the first GM food-related product to gain commercial approval in the United States, and as such, it held symbolic significance as the forbearer of a future GM revolution. But by the dawn of the twenty-first century, it was no longer cutting-edge technology to pump out pharmaceutical proteins in bacteria, as Posilac was produced. The biotech industry was hard at work, dreaming up so-called second generation GM products, which they hoped would wow the public more than Posilac had.

One of the early entrants into this field of dreamers was a company called ProdiGene, a small start-up that had been spun out of Pioneer Hi-Bred International and recruited to set down roots in Texas during George W. Bush's governorship there. A cornerstone of the biotechnology revolution of the 1980s had been the ability to produce drugs, such as Posilac or Humulin (a recombinant form of human insulin) in bacteria. These tools had significantly lowered costs and upped production and could be protected by patents to boot. As such, they had drawn a huge crowd of followers in the corporate biotechnology realm. But now, new tools were needed, or at least new raw materials upon which to temper those tools.

Although small in size, ProdiGene was thinking big, even bigger than bacteria. Recombinant E. coli had afforded incredible cost savings and production scale. ProdiGene proffered that producing the same kinds of proteins in plants, grown in the good of nature and powered by free photosynthetic power, could lead to even greater gains. Food crops like corn were inherently constructed to churn out their proteins using only the power of the sun, so it would just be a matter of putting the proper DNA sequence in the plant and harvesting the proceeds from the fields.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 10, 2008

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