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Businessweek Archives

The `Green' Genes Inside Insects

Developments to Watch


Insects have the vexing habit of eventually developing resistance to most of the chemicals industry develops to wipe them out. Now, scientists may transform that liability into an environmental asset.

Richard Michael Roe, associate professor of entomology at North Carolina State University, has identified the genes in several insects that help them alter the chemical makeup of an insecticide so that the bugs can survive. Roe has inserted those genes into microorganisms, where the genes continue to function. The genetically engineered bacteria, says Roe, could theoretically render chemicals harmless. In experiments, one gene enables bacteria to make some toxic substances water-soluble. Roe thinks that bacteria with insect genes could be used in a variety of ways--to clean up contaminated soil or render the toxic byproducts of manufacturing processes harmless. NCSU has applied for patents on the genes and process, and Roe is trying to interest companies in the technology. EDITED BY EMILY T. SMITH

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