Martha's Guide To Gracious Gene Splicing

THE BIOTECH INDUSTRY, BESET by tanking stocks and empty coffers, needs some inspiration to lift its flagging spirits. So whom did the New York Biotechnology Assn. choose as its keynote speaker at its recent annual conference? Martha Stewart, the avatar of gracious living.

Stewart, whose publications adorn many a coffee table, flummoxed the biotechers at the Manhattan gathering with a rambling talk on her worries about genetically altered food. "I would love to have a fine tomato in the winter," she said, "but I'm not sure we should mess with Mother Nature." Audience members, more focused on new drugs than new grub, asked a mere two questions afterward. Moaned one biotech PR pro privately: "This industry deserves its stocks to be so low."

Why Stewart? The group wanted a noted consumer's viewpoint, says an association official. Besides, Stewart is a biotech investor--though she won't name the stocks, saying only: "They're all down." And that is not, as she is fond of saying, "a good thing."

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