A Growth Industry

001020 earlyshow corn CBS

What if the future of manufacturing was still in plastic, but not plastic from petroleum – rather, biotech plastic made from corn?

Inventor Pat Gruber, a chemist at Cargill Dow, said there is an array of products now being made from a corn-based starch called PLA: golf balls, yogurt cups, clothes. Buy a Coke at the Olympics and the cup will be PLA. And once the PLA plant goes on line in Nebraska, Gruber said, you'll be sleeping and walking on PLA, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"I see carpet, I see the upholstery, I see the bedding, I see the mattresses."

Jeffrey Turner has another new biotech material. It's also a fiber. But it isn't corn. It's spider silk.

"Man has never been able to produce this type of material before," he said.

Turner's company, Nexia, and the U.S. Army believe biotech spider silk is so strong that it will make a better bulletproof vest.

And Nexia's production factory is a goat farm.

Using genetic engineering, Nexia put a spider gene into the goats. And if it works, the spider-goats will make usable silk protein in their milk.

Asked if he is going to mass-produce spider silk, Turner said, "That's correct. We are in the process of doing that now — commercializing and industrializing the mass production of spider silk."

These advances are part of a coming era of what's called industrial biotechnology — a revolution in which very high tech materials, fabrics and plastics come from raw materials here on the farm.

The impact of this revolution is energizing the nation's farmers. Gerald Tumbleson can now sell his corn crop for industrial products like the shirt he wears -- part cotton, part cornstarch.

More important, spider fibers and corn-plastic can replace goods now made from petrochemicals.

The bonus of this industrial revolution is there is no shortage of fuel. Cargill Dow will draw on the immense surplus of corn sitting in the nation's silos. Nexia's goats will run on the fuel of hay.


©MMII, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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