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I Have Just One Word for You: Bioplastics

The scourge of indestructible garbage and sky-high oil are fueling interest in plastics from plants. Is it time for tiny biotech Metabolix to get more respect on Wall Street?

For half of his life and all of his 25-year career as a bioengineer, Oliver P. Peoples has wanted to prove two things: that he could reengineer plants to grow biodegradable plastic in their cells and that he could make a lot of money doing it.

On the first goal, Peoples has had astonishing success. His Cambridge (Mass.) company, Metabolix (MBLX), has harnessed the complex genetics of plant-cell metabolism and collected hundreds of patents on a process for manufacturing "bioplastics" in large vats of microbes. A $200million factory is under construction and could start producing Metabolix's bioplastic, called Mirel, early next year. But Peoples' second mission, amassing wealth for himself and his investors, is glaringly incomplete. Mauled in the bear market and pounded by manufacturing delays, Metabolix's shares have spiraled down from a peak of 28 last November to around 11 in recent weeks.