Agracetus Inc. said Tuesday that it has received U.S. patent No.5,015,580 for genetically engineering soybeans using itsparticle gun technology.

The Middleton, Wisc., company, a subsidiary of W.R. Grace &Co., said its method is the only commercially practical way totransform elite commercial varieties of soybeans.

The company also said it has successfully transformed riceusing the particle gun.

Soybeans are the third-largest U.S. crop. About 60 million acresare planted annually, worth $11 billion at the grower level.

Soybeans engineered by Agracetus, containing genes fortolerance to the herbicide glufosinate, are being field-tested byAsgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of The Upjohn Co.

Monsanto Co. is also testing herbicide-tolerant soybeans.Monsanto's soybeans, tolerant to its Roundup glyphosateherbicide, are transformed using either Agrobacterium orparticle gun technology.

Russell Smestad, Agracetus' vice president of finance, declinedto say whether Agracetus and Monsanto have been workingtogether. But he did say that "the patent we have covers in ourmind all transgenic soybeans by particle-mediatedtransformation."

Agracetus also said it has successfully developed long-grainrice tolerant to the herbicide bialophos. Agracetus modified theU.S. commercial variety Gulfmont and the Asian subsistencevariety IR-54. Gulfmont accounts for about 10 percent of theU.S. long-grain rice crop. Long-grain varieties represent about75 percent of rice sold.

About 335 million tons of rice worth $100 billion are grownannually worldwide. Rice is also the single largest globalmarket for agricultural chemicals, with annual expenditures ofnearly $3 billion.

Agracetus said earlier this month that it has transformedcommercial varieties of cotton to become herbicide tolerant.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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