From Chapter 1:  The First Transformation


The scientists in Miami may not have realized it immediately, but in that moment, their field had changed. The solitary genius of the independent scientist had given way to the organized, collective, purposeful genius of corporate institutions. It echoed other such turning points in the history of technology. There was the moment during World War II, for instance, when the American military organized a ragtag band of theoretical physicists into the scientific-industrial enterprise known as the Manhattan Project, dedicated to creating an atomic bomb. Similar shifts in power and control took place during the rise of radio, or the telegraph, or, for that matter, the Internet.

Monsanto was not the only company intent on mastering the genetic manipulation of plants in the early 1980s. DuPont had set up laboratories to work on plants, as had Pfizer and the Swiss firm Hoffman-La Roche. Venture capitalists had financed a raft of small startup ventures. Peter Carlson, founder of a small company called Crop Genetics International, called it "nervous money", rushing to join the latest investment fad.

Yet Monsanto would outrace the large companies and outspend the small ones for most of the next decade. The trio of names on the paper that Horsch read in Miami presentation - Steve Rogers, Robert Fraley, and Robert Horsch - would become a familiar incantation, linked forever on a steady stream of scientific papers, and on patents giving Monsanto exclusive rights to new tools of genetic engineering, and plants with unprecedented powers.

The ultimate fate of this research would remain uncertain throughout the 1980s. There would be no products to sell for more than a decade. Most of the "nervous money" would run out of patience, sell out and move on. But a small cadre at Monsanto would stick with their bet, and double it. In their own eyes, they had successfully caught a monster wave of technological innovation, and they were riding it into a bright, clean, hopeful new world.