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funding and institutions

Developing a Discovery into a Research Tool: The Cost of the

Agrobacterium Ti Plasmid oS": How much does it cost to take a discovery in molecular biology and develop it into a useful biotechnology? To arrive at an answer, other questions must be considered. For instance, how many scientists are working, in how ^ra.l many laboratories, and over how many years? How do you account for the related basic knowledge that laid the foundation for the discovery? How do you ■gO;| define what other variables are involved in calculating the true costs? a'gra The Agrobacterium Ti plasmid is one of the earliest biotechnology success e<?:£ stories in plant research and is a classic example of how happenstance combines ji.Ero with years of effort to provide a useful research tool. The route to the discovery began at the turn of the century, with research on a plant disease called crown gall. USDA scientists discovered that Agrobacterium tumefaciens was the ^ fc ^ disease agent. By the 1940s, about 20 scientists concentrated in three ilo-l laboratories (one in the United States and two in France) were actively studying fundamental aspects of the disease. By the late 1960s the worldwide effort had grown to include about 40 researchers in 10 different laboratories.

At first, the work was of interest to only a small group of people studying plant diseases. Then in 1979, following the discovery that the bacterium was actually transferring genetic material to higher plants, the research effort §J=£ exploded. Scientists quickly saw the practical potential of this mechanism for cui2to gene transfer. About 40 scientists worked in 10 laboratories for 4 years

reconstructing the Ti plasmid as a plant gene transfer system. Throughout the -S-gS early 1980s, laboratory studies related to plant gene transfer and to the Ti system occupied the talents of up to 250 additional scientists. By 1986, at least 300 people working in about 25 laboratories worldwide were conducting g]|§ research on both applied and fundamental aspects of the Ti plasmid system. The | ^ ^ annual estimated cost of this research worldwide was about $45 million. (This amount assumes an average expense of $150,000 per scientist per year.)

Adding up the costs of the research directly related to the development of

.-Fra the Ti plasmid gene transfer system gives only a general estimate of the expense

OO q c ® ® of developing one technical breakthrough in biotechnology. Much of the is o ^ research using the Ti

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" — ra funding and institutions 81

plasmid in plant gene transfer is being supported either by private industry or by competitive grants to universities.

g The Federal Role

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