A Cheaper Way To Put Plants On Steroids

Just as certain kinds of steroids help athletes build muscle, brassinosteroids bulk up plants. A Sino-Japanese team at the Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology has created synthetic versions of brassinosteroids that can increase the yields of rice, wheat, and corn by 10% to 30%. But the formulations have been expensive to produce. Last month, however, chemists at the University of California at San Diego said they had lowered the cost by simplifying the production process.

Beak Consultants, a Toronto environmental consulting and venture-capital firm, has financed much of the work by UCSD researchers Trevor C. McMorris and Michael Baker. It's seeking a partner to get the stuff into commercial production, probably in two years or more. The likely price, says Beak Chairman Donald L. Lush: only pennies an acre.

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