Calgene Inc. said Thursday it has cloned a gene that isultimately responsible for how clean your detergent gets yourclothes.

The Davis, Calif., company has cloned a gene for lauroyl-ACPthioesterase, the essential enzyme in the formation of lauricacid in plants. The gene regulates fatty acid chain length, aparameter that determines such functional properties ofvegetable oils as lubrication and the ability to remove dirt fromfabric. Calgene has filed for patents on the gene.

Laurate, the processed form of lauric acid, is a medium-chainfatty acid produced by coconut and oil palm trees and somewild plants. Laurate, the active ingredient in detergents andsoaps, is absent in major European and North American oilseedcrops such as rapeseed and soybean. About 500 million poundsof laurate costing $250 million are used in the United Stateseach year.

Calgene will now put the gene into canola plants and test themin the greenhouse, said Dan Wagster, chief financial officer.

Calgene identified the protein corresponding to thioesterase bya novel method that didn't require its purification tohomogeneity. Calgene has applied for patents on the process,which it will use in-house to find other fatty acid genes.

Calgene stock (NASDAQ:CGNE) closed unchanged Thursday at$6.13. -- Karen Bernstein

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