5. An entire industry from a single cell

The biotechnology industry arrived in the late 1970s when entrepreneur-biologists began harnessing microbes for profit. A new company, Genentech, first entered the commercial market in 1977 with the peptide somatostatin, made by E. coli engineered to carry genes that encoded for this growth-modulating hormone. Prior to these E. coli fermentations, somatostatin came only from cattle after slaughter.

The first success in moving genes from one organism into a different, unrelated organism occurred in 1972 in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford University. Berg composed a hybrid DNA from the DNA molecules extracted from two different viruses. The next year Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen further stretched ...

Get Allies and Enemies: How the World Depends on Bacteria now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.