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Agricultural biotechnology gets underway
Advanced Genetic Sciences (AGS) is founded in Berkeley, California. It is the first agricultural biotechnology company to appear on the scene. The founder is Daniel Adams, formerly a venture capitalist with Inco, Ltd., and, from 1977 to 1979, President and Managing Director of Biogen. Adams assumes the roles of Chairman and CEO. He recruits New Zealander John Bedbrook, a plant molecular biologist, from CSI (Central Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) of Canberra, Australia, to become the firm’s chief scientific officer. Joining Bedbrook on the company’s scientific advisory board are leading plant biologists Jozef Schell and Marc van Montagu. Schell and van Montagu developed the Ti plasmid system of recombinant gene transfer in 1977. AGS licenses the technology from the Max Planck Institute and intends to employ it as a means of engineering crops. A limitation of the system is that it cannot be used to transfect monocots, which include grains and true grasses. The company announces plans to develop a new method being devised by Schell and Montagu, which will utilize transposons to clone and express recombinant genes in cereal plants, and to engineer microorganisms for use in a variety of agricultural applications, including the biological control of pathogens and adverse effects of weather conditions. Start-up funds for the company are supplied by the Swedish sugar company, Hilleshög. Revenues from contract research performed for chemical manufacturer Rohm & Haas of Philadelphia are important for early stage development.