Hoping to rewire the genetic blueprints of crop plants, researchers at Dow AgroSciences LLC and Dow Chemical Co. are joining forces with four academic centers in a $10 million initiative, the Oilseed Engineering Alliance. They aim to turn green fields into bio-factories that produce commodity chemicals and raw materials for plastics as well as more wholesome foods.

Michael Pollard, a plant pathologist at Michigan State University who is coordinating the program, admires the capabilities of crop plants. "They perform complicated synthetic reactions that are impossible for chemists to do in the lab." But plants typically produce hundreds of different oils, and separating them is costly. So a major goal is to coax plants to make just one kind of oil--or 90% of one variety. Making plastics from "green" oil could be lots cheaper than from petroleum. Dow is betting the farm on it.

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