Caterpillars relocate with Crop Genetics Insects are key to firm's research HOWARD COUNTY BUSINESS

October 01, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

An article on Thursday's Howard County Business page should have said Columbia-based Manekin Corp. is the owner of a building that will be serve as the new headquarters for Crop Genetics.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Like any company moving its corporate headquarters to Columbia, Crop Genetics will bring jobs -- about 80 of them.

But the 10-year-old Hanover company also is bringing caterpillars. Millions of them.

"We bring over all the adults and they produce eggs. That's a starter colony," explained Joe Kelly, company chairman and chief executive.


The insects may spin gold for the biotechnology company, which will move in April from its in Anne Arundel County base. The caterpillars are expected to produce a steady supply of environmentally friendly insecticide for E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., one of world's largest farm chemical producers.

"The lettuce you eat has probably been sprayed [with insecticides] eight or nine times to control caterpillar-type insects," Mr. Kelly said. Caterpillar-killing viruses could make such sprayings unnecessary, he said.

To raise the caterpillars, the company will construct temperature-, humidity- and airflow-controlled rooms in its new NTC headquarters on Old Columbia Road in Kings Contrivance village. Building the special laboratories is what will put off the move until April 1, Mr. Kelly said.

When the caterpillars are ready, they will be infected with a virus that later will be removed from their bodies and used as an insecticide.

"We're farmers, basically. High-tech farmers," Mr. Kelly said.

The viruses are considered an environmentally safe pesticide, he explains, because "they only kill insects. They have no effects on mammalian cells." They also degrade quickly, and don't hurt water supplies as chemical pesticides have been known to do.

Probably best described as a bio-tech company, Crop Genetics is being featured as an environmental company in a seminar about investing in environmental companies put on today and tomorrow by the brokerage house of Alex Brown & Sons. One of 40 companies featured, Crop Genetics' presentation is scheduled 12:15 p.m. tomorrow at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore.

Crop Genetics caused a stir on Wall Street after its December alliance agreement with Du Pont doubled its per share stock price.

To fulfill that agreement, Crop Genetics will need the extra space in the 75,500 square-foot building in the Rouse Company's Rivers Corporate Park. The company now occupies three buildings in Anne Arundel County with a total of about 40,000 square feet.

The deal will make the company Du Pont's sole provider of caterpillar-killing viruses, or insecticidal virus products (IPVs). Du Pont will work with the viruses to formulate an effective way of using them on crops.

As could be expected of a small bio-tech company, Crop Genetics has yet to make a profit. Last year the company, which went public in 1987, reported revenues of 3.7 million and a net loss of $6.4 million.

Mr. Kelly said that depending on how much the company decides to reinvest in research, the company could turn a profit in two years.

Crop Genetics' roster corporate officers and board members lists some titans of government and agriculture, including John R. Block, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Nobel Laureate Norman E. Borlaug, Sol M. Linowitz, former Xerox Corp. CEO and Elliott L. Richardson, former U.S. Attorney General.

Besides bringing jobs to Howard County, Crop Genetics will help improve the county's depressed commercial real estate industry, which is languishing under a 24 percent office/warehouse vacancy rate. The Rouse-owned building has been vacant four years since the previous tenant, CGR Medical Group, was bought by General Electric Corp.

In addition to the employees working at the company's new headquarters, Crop Genetics has 20 other employees at its 200-acre research farm in Queen Anne's County on the Eastern Shore and in Louisiana, where the company sells disease-free sugar cane seed.

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