The prospects in agricultural biotech are tantalizing enough that they are helping to drive a massive restructuring of the agricultural and chemical industries that is, in some cases, blurring the lines between the two (see “Seeding a New Industry,” sidebar). Monsanto and DuPont, in particular, have dug deeply into the new opportunities, gobbling up seed suppliers and plant biotech start-ups. Driven largely by the potential of biotech, Monsanto last year unceremoniously dumped its chemicals business, embracing biology as the wave of the future. In turn, this spring DuPont reorganized, forming a life sciences group (which includes its agricultural, drugs and biotech activities) and declaring that its future growth lies in the integration of chemistry and biotechnology.
Even staid Dow Chemical, the huge chemicals maker, has professed its desire to be a leading biotech player, targeting the development of plastics and industrial chemicals. “It’s a technology whose time has come,” says Fernand Kaufmann, Dow’s vice president of new businesses and strategic development. Kaufmann cautions, however, that it will take time for plant-grown chemicals to make a dent in the huge commodity markets, which are dominated by products made from petroleum.