Wanna know what gazillionaire Bill Gates of the Microsoft empire does with spare millions? Interestingly, he's investing a good chunk of it in biotech companies. Yeah, that's right: The biotech that's derided and protested by activist groups around the globe is where the world's head computer geek is parking his spare change. A couple of relevant sentences from the Worth magazine article:

“He has for years been selling Microsoft stock — more than $6 billion worth so far — and investing the proceeds in biotechnology and new media companies. If the 20th century was the century of the computer, the 21st will be the century of biotech. And as probably the single largest biotech investor in the world, Gates expects the new companies he is supporting to kick in and increase his wealth even further…. When the age of the PC is past and Microsoft is in decline, these biotech investments will probably keep Gates in his position as the richest man on earth.”

Gates may not know a genetically engineered soybean from a Pentium chip, but he and his advisors do have an uncanny knack for spotting trends and riding them to fortune. While activist groups are destroying biotech research plots and staging their media-targeted protests against “Frankenfoods,” he's plowing vast sums of money into biotech companies he believes have the capability to make him the rolled-into-one Standard Oil, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and General Motors of the 21st century.

Like all visionaries, he knows all great trends have had their opponents and detractors. But in the long term, progress and technology have triumphed, and mankind is the better for it.

You may not have known it, since the majority of the mainstream media didn't acknowledge it, but May 13-19 was National Biotechnology Week, as officially proclaimed by the U.S. Senate and President George Bush.

A paragraph from the president's proclamation: “Consumers enjoy continual improvements to the quality and quantity of our nation's food supply. Genetic engineering will enable farmers to modify crops so they will grow on land previously considered infertile. It will enable farmers to grow crops with enhanced nutritional value. We also are benefiting from crops that resist diseases and insects, thus reducing the use of pesticides. The environmental benefits of biotechnology can be realized through the increased ability of manufacturers to produce their products with less energy, pollution, and waste.”

The Senate version noted: “It is important for all Americans to understand the beneficial role biotechnology plays in improving our quality of life and protecting the environment.”

Most of the opposition to biotechnology has centered around the introduction of non-crop genes into cotton, soybeans, tomatoes, and other crops.

In a Detroit Free Press article, Gustaaf A. deZoeten, professor emeritus of botany and plant pathology at Michigan State University and an advisor to the USDA and the EPA on biotech regulations and the marketing of bioengineered food, wrote: “It is troubling to observe the widening gap between the reality of food safety oversight in the United States and the seemingly growing public misperception that biotechnology poses an inherent health risk.”

To the contrary, he says, “Food biotechnology benefits from an extraordinary level of scrutiny that virtually guarantees that any food product approved for human consumption will be just as safe as any conventional food.” To date, deZoeten says, “there has not been a single verified case of adverse health effect due to a biotech food or food ingredient.”

Unfortunately, too much of the media's biotech focus has been on such tempests-in-a-teapot as the contaminated taco shell/StarLink corn episode, the Monarch butterfly/Bt corn controversy, and others which have been proven basically groundless scientifically and medically.

Biotech's potential for progress and benefit to mankind is so far-reaching that it will not be suppressed, despite its detractors. Bill Gates knows that and he's betting big bucks it will be a major influence on the earth's future.


e-mail: hembree_brandon@intertec.com