In a move toward its goal of economically producing fattyalcohols and long-chain liquid waxes, Calgene Inc. announcedWednesday that it is the first company to clone the reductasegene responsible for the synthesis of fatty alcohols in plants.

Calgene (NASDAQ:CGNE) told a meeting of the AmericanSocieties for Experimental Biology in Copper Mountain, Colo.,that the cloning followed the purification of the reductaseenzyme from the jojoba plant, a wild shrub found in theSouthwest desert. Jojoba produces fatty alcohols as anintermediate product in the synthesis of long-chain liquidwaxes (LCLWs).

The Davis, Calif., company is also attempting to clone fromjojoba the ligase gene that is responsible for the synthesis ofLCLW from fatty alcohols.

"The ability to produce fatty alcohols and LCLWs in plantswould offer tremendous opportunities for our plants oilsbusiness," said Andrew Baum, senior vice president ofoperations for Calgene.

"There is a 300 million-pound market for fatty alcohols and asmaller market for long-chain liquid waxes," Baum said."However, its current high price of $8 to $10 a pound hasrestricted its use to high-value niche markets," he said. "We canmake these available for a much more affordable price."

Calgene plans to genetically engineer the reductase and ligasegenes into rapeseed, a widely grown oilseed crop. Fatty alcoholsare used in a wide variety of cosmetic, personal care,pharmaceutical, lubricant and cleaning products. LCLWs areused in cosmetics lubricants.

The company's work on these genes thus far has beenrestricted to the laboratory and greenhouse.

"It's a difficult project because the enzyme is a membrane-bound enzyme and very difficult to purify," Baum said."Historically, people have been dramatically unsuccessful ineven solubilizing it, let alone purifying it."

"Very few, if any, are working on this project," Baum said. "Itwas seen as so difficult to pursue that people were reluctant todeploy resources on it." -- Michelle Slade

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