Final approval of Calgene Inc.'s Flavr Savr tomato was welcome newsto those planning to introduce their own genetically engineered fruitsand vegetables.Especially, said analyst Richard Elam, if Calgene "can deliver a red,ripe, luscious tomato." Elam, with Kemper Securities Inc., toldBioWorld that a good tomato, which is still good during the wintermonths, would go a long way toward dispelling fears held by someconsumers about genetically altered foods.While Calgene met its goal by introducing the first engineered wholefood product, companies such as DNA Plant Technology Corp.(DNAP), ESCAgenetics Corp. and Zeneca Inc. stand to benefit fromCalgene's five-year, ground-breaking effort."We're probably not as thrilled as Calgene, but we're close," EllenMartin, DNAP's director of corporate communications, told BioWorld."We are now focusing our entire corporate strategy on fruits andvegetables. We hope this means there will be a streamlined approvalprocess."DNAP, which is moving from Cinnaminson, N.J., to Oakland, Calif.,uses its Transwitch technology in much of its engineering, whichinvolved adding a copy of a gene already in the plant, therebycanceling the original gene in some of the transformed plants.DNAP plans to test market its own tomato later this year, and hopes tohave it on the market next year, depending on regulatory hurdles.DNAP also is working on a sweet pea, which it hopes to test market in1995, that would retain sugar longer. Behind that are bananasengineered to express less ethylene, which controls the ripening androtting of fruits. Other products in the DNAP pipeline includepineapples and strawberries.Zeneca Plant Science, of Wilmington, Del., also has the tomato as itsfirst intended product launch, but its focus is on processed tomatoes forvarious sauces and pastes. Zeneca is using the same polygalacturonase(PG) Calgene engineered for the Flavr Savr. The company hopes for afull-scale commercial launch in 1996.Zeneca plans to introduce fresh tomatoes a year or two after theprocessed variety, and is working on bananas _ by controlling the wayand rate of ripening _ and strawberries, which involves amplifying theoutput of genes making up the natural flavor component."We're looking at a steady flow of product launches from 1995 to theend of the decade," Simon Best, CEO and managing director of ZenecaPlant Science, told BioWorld.Best said that market research has shown the company that whatinterests consumers, ultimately, is the benefit to them in terms ofimproved taste and shelf life. "We haven't been in a race (with Calgene)," said Best. "It's excellentnews, not just for Calgene but for the rest of the industry that hasproducts right behind Calgene's."ESCAgenetics, of San Carlos, Calif., uses tissue cell cultures to makeits products, with a focus of near-term commercialization of date palmsand potatoes."I think (Calgene's approval) is going to benefit anybody in thegenetically engineered food business," Martin said. "It shows it can bedone, it shows how it can be done and it shows, by demonstration,places where one can do it better. These are very exciting times forproduce technology."Calgene, meanwhile, doesn't have other produce items in the near-termpipeline, although it is planning to launch improved canola and cottonseed products in the next few years."Our goal was to be the first company to do this," Carolyn Hayworth,Calgene's manager for public relations, told BioWorld. "We werehappy to work with the government to help them define their policy.We're anxious to see the stream of products that come out ofbiotechnology, and we're happy to be the pioneer in this."

-- Jim Shrine

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