From Chapter 3:  "Everything Was Worth Doing"

 

 

Act I of Monsantoís quest for genetically altered crops, the era of untrammeled scientific exploration, was about to end. The curtain finally came down at the end of 1985. Monsanto lost nearly a hundred million dollars that year. It was also the year that Mahoney bought the drug maker G. D. Searle & Company for $2.7 billion. Searle represented Mahoney's long-sought foothold in that pharmaceutical business, but the transaction took Monsanto deep into debt. Mahoney also was fed up with the constant bickering between his companyís rival biotechnology programs.

Mahoney, who never minded playing the tough guy, called Howard Schneiderman into his office, together with Robert Kaufmanís boss, the president of the Agricultural Company. "I told them, 'You guys have got to combine these programs, or I'll do it," he recalls. "So they came to an accommodation."

On November 4, 1985, Schneiderman scrawled a few cryptic notes into one of the small black notebooks that he often carried with him, which escaped Monsantoís shredders after his death: "Dreadful meeting with Dick Mahoney. Destroy Central R&D". Two days later, he found himself spitting up blood. Alarmed, he went to the doctor, who could find nothing wrong. As the bleeding subsided, the doctor decided that a blood vessel in Schneidermanís throat had burst, probably from stress.

Schneiderman and his proteges, however, emerged from the bloodletting in better shape than their rivals. Robert Kaufman, Jaworskiís adversary, realized that he was being shown the door. "It was a question of which group would go," he says. "There was no compromise with Schneiderman. He was going to get rid of the chemists. They must have canned sixty people." The layoffs happened just before the end of the year, and some called it a "Christmas massacre". Kaufman himself was gon within six months.

The two groups were melded into one, by force. From that point on, the researchers knew that their survival at Monsanto hung on their ability to create genetically modified plants that weren't just interesting, but valuable. The search was on for blockbuster genes, gifts from nature that they might be able to claim as their own, transfer into plants, and sell for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

It was a demanding standard. The fact was, despite their ambitious promises, genetic engineers still couldnít do very much, and those things they could do - such as induce virus resistance - often werenít commercially valuable. The genetic engineers were not (yet) masters of creation. They were more like intruders in an unfamilar, darkened house, walking only where haphazardly placed windows shed bits of light. There were many competing bands of intruders in this house, all trying to grasp the same few enticing treasures.