Belinda Martineau's First Fruit

Belinda Martineau's First Fruit takes us back to the 90's when Calgene developed the first biotech food, the Flavr Savr tomato. It was the first genetically-modified product approved for human consumption - a significant achievement - and one can only imagine the regulatory hurdles they had to overcome. The story was mentioned as an example in the text, Building Biotechnology.

The problem with supermarket tomatoes at the time was that they lacked flavor (is this still a problem today?). In order to prevent tomatoes from rotting during the long shipping times from the farm to the store, they were pulled from the vine when they were still green and allowed to ripe in transit. Calgene had developed a tomato was resistant to rotting through inserting a gene that interfered with the production of the enzyme polygalacturonase. In theory, tomatoes could then be allowed to fully ripe on the vine and retain their full flavor. Hence why Calgene's tomatoes were called "Flavr Savr".

Martineau was a Principal Scientist at Calgene at the time and tells the story through the lens of a scientist. The story begins with the immense pressure but also excitement from a science perspective. Throughout the book she also shares the differences between academia and industry and what it was like to be in both settings. 

One consistent theme throughout the book was the tension between the business and science in a biotech. Flavr Savr was a significant achievement from both a science and regulatory standpoint. However, the product ended up failing in the market. Martineau speaks about the differences in priorities, style of work, and even culture between the different divisions within the company. 

The book was meant to be a personal account and does not contain explicit business lessons. However, Martineau provides a very personal and detailed account of her experience within a biotech company that was on the frontier of science.

There are implied lessons from both the science and business side, much like the book, Billion Dollar Molecule. I highly recommend this book to graduate students and post-docs who are interested in transitioning to industry. 

Get the book here on Amazon. 

No comments :

Post a Comment