From BIOINFO: an Agricultural Biotechnology Monitor


BIOINFO: an Agricultural Biotechnology Monitor, Vol III No. 5, December, 1995

Aquaculture, or the farming of aquatic animals, is an $800 million industry that is expected to grow to around $3-5 billion over the next decade, creating 500,000 new jobs and satisfying better than 35% of the market demand for seafood, according to a 1994 Department of Commerce report. TheDepartment of Agriculture reports that aquaculture is the fastest growing agricultural sector in theUnited States, growing an average of 20% each year. Aquaculture producers are increasingly looking to marine biotechnology to fill the demand gap of seafood products. Intensive research is being conducted throughout the country in the areas of reproduction, growth and development, nutrition, and disease control. The commercial applications of this research include inducement of year-round spawning, enhancement of growth rates, evaluation of diets for more efficient and economical nutritional utilization, and development of effective vaccines to prevent various diseases. Access to this research will give US commercial producers a distinct advantage in the burgeoning, global aquaculture market.

Currently, more than a hundred different species are being cultured; however, eight species account for approximately 70% of total production. Some major species are: oysters, clams, salmon, catfish, trout, and shrimp. Andy Davlin, an aquaculture analyst, anticipates that US consumer demand for aquaculture products will increase over 700% in the next 25 years. Marine biotechnology is playing a leading role in filling this exponentially increasing demand for seafood products.


BIOINFO: an Agricultural Biotechnology Monitor, Vol IV No. 1, January, 1996


Based on recent approvals for new biotechnology, the USDA forecasts that the dairy industry willlead biotechnology in agriculture into the 21st century. Two major breakthroughs, the approval of chymosin from recombinant E. coli K-12 for use in cheese making and the approval of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), have propelled the dairy industry to the forefront of biotechnology research. New research also shows promise for the application of biotechnology in dairy production, and genetic manipulation is on the verge of enhancing growth and increasing feed efficiency on a specific basis. Specific biotechnological opportunities resulting from current research include:

Production of Heterologous Proteins - more than one dozen biomedical proteins have been produced in research in the milk of goats, sheep and pigs. These proteins include tissue plasminogen activator, urokinase, interleukin-2, follicle stimulating hormone, human serum albumin and human lactoferrin, which can all be utilized for medical purposes.

Modification of Milk Composition - research underway focuses on increasing the amount of casein in milk to enhance thermal stability; elimination of certain whey proteins to ease digestion; optimization of lactose levels to reduce dietary malabsorption; and improvement of the lipid composition in cow's milk to make it similar to human milk for infants.

Genome Mapping - genome mapping in dairy cattle has progressed beyond single-gene effects tomapping quantitative trait loci with DNA microsatellites. In the future such technology will assistin developing individual breeding animals with pre-determined genotypes.

Metabolic Pathways - biotech studies of chemical precursors and biosynthetic products can improve animal health and milk quality. Although most research is now focused on sheep, it is believed that biosynthesis of amino acids and lysine can be introduced into transgenic cattle.

Cost considerations will likely force researchers to focus on high value products such as proteins and pharmaceutical components. In addition, as the U.S. and its trading partners iron out differences such as BST, firms are more likely to pursue biotech solutions to current dairy problems.


BIOINFO: an Agricultural Biotechnology Monitor, Vol IV No. 2, February, 1996


Industry experts believe that the nutraceutical (linking plant science to human health) industry has the potential to surpass both the prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical industries because of recent advances in agricultural biotechnology research. A few companies are already leading the pack in the nutraceutical industry. Agrocetus, a Wisconsin based genetics company, has entered into a contract with Bristol-Myers Squibb to produce an anti-cancer drug found in genetically engineered soybeans and corn. Company representatives confirmed that BR96, an anti-cancer monoclonal antibody, is being used in clinical trials and will soon be on the market.

Cargill and ADM, grain industry giants, are investing in natural vitamin E extraction technology, using corn, soybeans and wheat. Demand for natural vitamin E has increased dramatically as a health food supplement.Petoseed, a major seed supplier, is focusing research on pharmaceutical uses for peppers and carrots. Instead of concentrating simply on appearance and flavor, technology is being utilized to enhance certain nutrient contents believed to have specific medical applications. The pharmaceutically enhanced vegetables are now in the research stage.At Johns Hopkins University the chemical sulforaphane, which prevents breast cancer, has been found in broccoli in sufficient quantities to warrant commercialization. Researchers at Hopkins believe the potential for nutraceuticals is so large that a new Chemoprotection Laboratory has been established to link human and plant research. Patents have been filed and licensing opportunities are available through Johns Hopkins.Industry insiders believe the nutraceutical industry will expand rapidly in the next few years, with a wide range of crop-related pharmaceutical products on the market. The industry could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales for farmers, seed and genetics companies, and pharmaceutical firms.


BIOINFO: an Agricultural Biotechnology Monitor, Vol IV No. 3, March, 1996


The first samples of transgenically grown biodegradable plastics, or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA's), have been shipped to plastics companies in the United States and Europe. Metabolix Inc., of Cambridge, MA, has patented transgenic technology in the U.S. that inserts genes into transgenic highly efficient fermentation systems and field crops to produce plastics, which will eventually be cost competitive with petroleum-based plastics used in packaging, diapers, containers, bottles, and garbage bags. A number of companies and research institutions in the U.S. and Europe are working to patent transgenic plants for plastic production.

Zeneca, an English company, previously patented PHBV's, or poly-hydroxybutate-co-valerate, to make a plastic called Biopal, but the Zeneca material thus far has proven uncompetitive, with production costs approaching US$ 8 per pound. Metabolix estimates its product will cost about US$ 2.00 per pound once full commercial production is underway.

Metabolix plans to contract with farmers in the U.S. to produce PHA-rich field crops, which could include soybeans, canola, corn, wheat, or oats. The production of PHA's will provide an opportunity for producers to harvest high-value crops that are less price sensitive to world commodity price swings. BASF, the European chemical giant, has estimated the market for biodegradable plastics in Europe alone is over US$ 500 million. A number of organizations are researching similar biotechnology. University of Warwick scientists in England have made breakthroughs in transgenic plastic production, while researchers in Canada are close to making plastics from similar transgenic plants.

The PHA biotechnology is based upon moving genes and enzymes into new fermentation systems and plant crops, which lowers the cost of PHA production. The PHA's are composed of hydroxy acids that are polymerized into polyesters. Metabolix considers full commercialization of the plastics to be four to eight years away. Commercial performance will, in part, depend on composting capabilities in areas where PHA products are sold. Germany and the Netherlands are considered ideal markets because of extensive recycling and composting programs.