Imperial Chemical Industries plc of Wilmington, Del., hashitched its genetically engineered tomato project to two majorconsumer product marketers.

The company announced Thursday agreements with Hunt-Wesson Inc. and Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. ICI and Hunt-Wesson plan to share in the profits of a processed tomatoproduct that it hopes will produce thicker sauces and ketchup.ICI expects to pay for product development costs, while Hunt-Wesson, a Con Agra company based in Fullerton, Calif., is tobear production scale-up and marketing costs. ICI may receiveadditional royalties on product sales, said Simon Best, businessmanager for fruit and vegetable technology for ICI Seeds, aunit of ICI Americas Inc. that is the U.S. operating unit of ICIplc of London.

Dole Fresh Vegetables of Salinas, Calif., a division of the DoleFood Co., is to evaluate ICI's technology for improving thequality of fresh market tomatoes and the potential for applyingICI's technology to other fresh fruits and vegetables.

The size of the tomato market -- $7.5 billion in the U.S. and $30billion worldwide -- and perceived consumer dissatisfactionwith the taste of store-bought tomatoes whetted ICI's interestin the project, according to Best.

ICI's strategy is to control the texture, flavor and color oftomatoes by regulating the ripening process. The company isinitially targeting softening. It is field-testing the geneencoding for the tomato-ripening enzyme PG(Polygalacturonase) gene. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Officelast week agreed to review an interference between a U.S.patent issued to ICI and another issued to Calgene Inc. for thegene.

Best said a worst-case decision for ICI, in which the companyends up with nothing, would delay the development of aprocessed product by about a year. Subject to that ruling, Bestanticipates a full-scale launch of processed tomato products in1995, followed by a fresh product.

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.

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