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Allies and Enemies: How the World Depend... > 5. An entire industry from a single ...

5. An entire industry from a single cell

The biotechnology industry arrived in the late 1970s when entrepreneur-biologists began harnessing microbes for profit. A new company, Genentech, first entered the commercial market in 1977 with the peptide somatostatin, made by E. coli engineered to carry genes that encoded for this growth-modulating hormone. Prior to these E. coli fermentations, somatostatin came only from cattle after slaughter.

The first success in moving genes from one organism into a different, unrelated organism occurred in 1972 in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford University. Berg composed a hybrid DNA from the DNA molecules extracted from two different viruses. The next year Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen further stretched the boundaries of gene transfer by putting genes from a toad into E. coli. Most important, successive generations of the engineered E. coli retained the new gene and reproduced it whenever they made new copies of E. coli genes. Boyer and Cohen had developed recombinant DNA, and as a result, the world had its first human-made GMO.


  

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