Cures On the Cob

Plants spiked with extra genes are being harvested for drugs. Could the wrong ones land in our food?

The scraggly cornstalks sprouting from pots in Andy Hiatt's laboratory don't look particularly unusual. But woven into their DNA is a tiny strip of mankind: a human gene that codes for an antibody to a sexually transmitted disease--genital herpes--that afflicts some 60 million Americans. When the corn plants mature and produce kernels, Hiatt's company, Epicyte Pharmaceutical of San Diego, hopes to turn them into a topical gel for herpes.

And that's just for starters. Epicyte is one of a host of biotech companies that have seized on the information in the map of the human genome--a map that was officially...

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