DNA Plant Technology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
DNA Plant Technology Corporation

DNA Plant Technology was an early pioneer in applying transgenic biotechnology to problems in agriculture. The company was founded in Cinnamonson, New Jersey, and moved to California in 1994. Some of the plants and products they developed included Vine sweet mini peppers, the Fish tomato and Y1 Tobacco. In 1996 the company merged with the Mexican conglomerate, Empresas La Moderna, through its Bionovo subsidiary. In 2002, Bionova shut down DNA Plant Technology.


DNA Plant Technology was founded in 1981 by Dr. William R. Sharp and Dr. David A. Evans, in Cinnaminison, New Jersey, "to develop tastier, value-added plant-based products for industrial and consumer markets" using "advanced plant-breeding techniques, tissue-culture methods and molecular biology in developing premium food products and improving agricultural raw materials."[1] By 1986, the company had gone public (NASDAQ:DNAP), and had partnerships with American Home Foods, Campbell Soup, Firmenich (a fragrance and flavor company), General Foods, Koppers Company, Hershey Foods, Brown and Williamson Tobacco, United Fruit, and others.[1]

By 1992 the company was investing heavily in genetic engineering and had invented, and obtained an issued patent[2] for, the fish antifreeze gene that would become part of the infamous Fish tomato.[3]

In 1993, DNAP purchased the Freshworld premium fruit and vegetable brand from Du Pont for a mixture of shares, cash and intellectual rights valued at over $30 million.[4]

In 1994, their headquarters moved to Oakland, California.[5]

In 1996, the company was out of cash, and agreed to a merger with Empresas La Moderna, S.A. de C.V. (NYSE/ADR:ELM) (“ELM”) through ELM's subsidiary, Bionova, which also controlled the seed company, Seminis.[6][7][8] The company became a wholly owned subsidiary of DNAP Holding Corporation (NASDAQ: DNAPD) of which it retained a 30% equity stake. ELM and Bionova were controlled by Alfonso Romo Garza. ELM was a company based in Monterrey, Mexico that operated in three fields: cigarettes (where it held 53% of the Mexican market), vegetable seeds, and packaging.[7]

In 1999 DNAP Holding Corporation changed its name to Bionova Holding Corporation[9] and changed its NASDAQ ticker to BNVA.[10]

In 2002 Bionova closed down its R&D operations, which had been carried out through its DNA Plant Technology subsidiary.[11]

Major works[edit]

Fish tomato[edit]

In 1991, DNA Plant Technology applied for and were granted permission to conduct a field test permit for their transgenic fish tomato product (tomato; antifreeze gene; staphylococcal Protein A) from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.[12] This product remains controversial[13] in the history of biotechnology, because an antifreeze gene isolated from an arctic flounder was transgenically inserted into a tomato in an attempt to create a frost-tolerant tomato. Although this product was tested in a greenhouse, and may have been tested in the field, it was never commercialized.

In 1995, DNA Plant Technology unveiled a second generation of a different transgenic tomato and served it at a meeting of its shareholders.[14] That same year, DNA Plant Technology sold its wholly owned subsidiary called to Frost Technology Corporation to Simplot.[15]


Via its collaboration with the cigarette company, Brown & Williamson, DNA Plant Technology developed a genetically engineered cultivar of tobacco with a higher nicotine content, based on a high-nicotine strain already owned by Brown & Williamson called Y-1. Brown & Williamson and DNA Plant Technology were indicted by the US government for exporting the seeds to Brazil in violation of the Tobacco Seed Export law.[16]


In the mid 1980s, DNAP attempted to use somaclonal variation with corn to produce buttery-tasting popcorn without the need to add butter.[17]

Discovery of gene silencing[edit]

While working for DNA Plant Technology, the scientists Richard A. Jorgensen and Carolyn Napoli made discoveries about post transcriptional gene silencing that went on to form the basis of a number of U.S. patents on gene regulation and crop manipulation. Key experiments in the control of plant transgene expression were performed by Jorgensen after he joined DNA Plant Technology corporation / Advanced Genetic Sciences, Inc., including the modification of flower color in ornamental plants. This research led to the discovery of gene silencing when an extra copy of a key gene yielded white rather than blue flowers.[18]

Legal controversy[edit]

In the 1990s, the FDA targeted DNA Plant Technology, charging that it had illegally smuggled Y1 Tobacco seeds out of the United States. The U.S. Justice Department charged DNA Plant Technology with one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate the Tobacco Seed Export law, prohibiting the export of tobacco seeds without a permit (a law which was repealed in 1991).[5] [19] DNA Plant Technology pleaded guilty in 1998 and agreed to cooperate with further investigations of Brown & Williamson. However, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in March 2000 that the FDA did not have the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug.[20]


  1. ^ a b Penny Singer for The New York Times. July 13, 1986 Mt. Vernon Group Is In Quest To Breed 'Perfect' Vegetables
  2. ^ US patent 5,118,792
  3. ^ Edmund L. Andrews for The New York Times. June 13, 1992 Patents; Keeping Ice Out of Food That's Frozen
  4. ^ "DNA Plant Technology to buy Du Pont's Half of Venture". The New York Times. 1993-11-10. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  5. ^ a b "United States of America v. DNA Plant Technology Corporation". US District Court for the District of Columbia. 1998-01-07. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  6. ^ Carl T. Hall for the San Francisco Chronicle. January 30, 1996 Cashless DNA Company Finds Mexican Buyer
  7. ^ a b Staff, SeedQuest. September 27, 1996 Shareholders of DNA Plant Technology approve merger with unit of Empresas La Moderna
  8. ^ Reuters, via the Los Angeles Times. October 11, 1996 Mexican Firm Following Growth Strategy: Diversification: La Moderna has broadened its scope from cigarettes to agrobiotechnology. Its focus is to become a market leader in select fields.
  9. ^ Bionova Holding Corporation Official Website
  10. ^ Staff, SeedQuest. April 29, 1999 DNAP announces name change to BIONOVA
  11. ^ "Bionova R&D operations at DNA Plant Technology Corporation to be shut down".
  12. ^ "Permit Number 91-079-01 tomato; antifreeze gene; staphylococcal Protein A" (PDF).
  13. ^ Pandora's Picnic Basket.
  14. ^ "DNA Plant Technology unveils second-generation genetically-modified tomato".
  15. ^ "Dna Plant Technology Completes Sale Of Frost Technology Corporation To J.R. Simplot Unit". Business Wire. 1995.
  16. ^ SFGate staff and Wire reports. January 8, 1998 Oakland firm admits nicotine boosting
  17. ^ Graff, Gordon (1987-11-08). "What's New in Agricultural Biotechnology: In Search of a Lightweight Tomato". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  18. ^ "Homology-Based Suppression of Gene Expression in Transgenic Plants" (PDF).
  19. ^ Kleiner, Kurt (1998-01-17). "The dragnet closes in - Tobacco sleuths have put a biotech company in the dock". New Scientist. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
  20. ^ United States Supreme Court (2000-03-21). "Food and Drug Administration et al. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. et al". FindLaw. Retrieved 2008-06-12.