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Mergers and Management Plans - Biotechnology Industry News

Crop and Soil Environmental News, September 1997

Charles Hagedorn
Extension Specialist

Calgene/Monsanto To Merge

Monsantoís share in Calgene, the agbiotech company noted as an innovator in transgenic crop technologies, has risen to 94 percent. It is anticipated that Monsanto will soon acquire the remaining shares of California-based Calgene and completely merge it into Monsantoís operations.

CuraGen and Pioneer Hi-Bred Sign "Largest Agronomics Deal Ever"

CuraGen Corporation and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., have signed a major collaboration agreement by which Pioneer will apply CuraGenís proprietary gene expression technology to discover genes responsible for agricultural seed product performance. It is believed that CuraGenís impressive recombinant DNA technology expertise will complement and extend Pioneerís plant genomics research. Press releases have stated that CuraGenís technology and expertise combined with Pioneerís extensive germplasm base and knowledge of plant genetics and molecular biology put them in a unique position to identify specific genes responsible for superior performance in seed products. The collaboration agreement has also indicated evidence of future directions as Pioneer hopes that their vast experience in gene-based seed product development will enhance knowledge and application of gene expression to human therapeutic programs. Under the terms of the agreement, Pioneer will make a $7.5 million equity investment and will fund research at CuraGen over five years. Pioneer will have worldwide development and marketing rights for seed and agricultural products, while CuraGen will retain rights for human and animal health applications. Each party will receive royalties on the sale of licensed products developed by the other. In addition, the companies will collaborate on enhancing CuraGenís bioinformatics systems. CuraGen has developed a web-based system called GeneScapeTM that enables gene discovery and database integration, as well as a suite of genetic analysis software called Gene-CallingTM, that allows researchers to compare genetic profiles to discover genes.

Zeneca to Acquire Mogen

Zeneca Agrochemicals is proceeding with the acquisition of Mogen, a major plant biotechnology company with a leading position in genetic modification of plants for fungal and nematode resistance, and for the production of enzymes and carbohydrates in plants. Zeneca Agrochemicals is the worldís third largest supplier in the crop protection and plant science business.

Insect Resistance in Bt Cotton

The development of crop varieties incorporating insecticidal Bt genes has been among the most successful applications of agricultural biotechnology research so far. However, the sustainability of this new biotechnology may be limited by the adaptation of insect pests. A study led by Fred Gould of N.C. State University provides the first direct estimate of the field frequency of Bt-resistant insects. The study reports that in tobacco budworms (Heliothis virescens)a major cotton pest, 1 in 350 individuals carried an allele for resistance to the Bt toxin. This estimate is considerably higher than those assumed in earlier theoretical models, and may be a predictor of a swift evolution of resistant insect populations. Gouldís research definitely illustrates that resistance management procedures such as refuges, intense field monitoring of transgenic plants for potential escapes, and alternate control strategies are essential to maintain the viability of this valuable resource. With appropriate resistance management, Bt cotton could remain efficacious with tobacco budworm for at least ten years. This is a reasonable time frame considering that some insect pests have developed resistance to many pesticides used with conventional varieties in less time than that. However, the current Bt cotton has less resistance to other pests such as cotton bollworm and European corn borer, and thus the authors [of the study] predict a boom cycle of only 3-4 years for this Bt variety.

Pioneer Hi-Bred Adopts Resistance Management Program

Pioneer Hi-Bred is requiring growers of its Bt field corn seed to sign an agreement to plant a block of non-Bt corn near the Bt field as a refuge for Euorpean corn borer. The refugee is a key component of a pest resistance management program, and there is concern throughout the biotechnology industry that rapid insect resistance to Bt could compromise the usefulness of Bt-based transgenic crops.

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