She Built A Career On Killing Bugs Without Poison

By Geoffrey Mohan
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It hasn’t always been easy for Pam Marrone, founder and CEO of “Bio Innovations.” The company is one of the leading startups focused on ecologically based pest management. In this article, she shares her journey.

Los Angeles Times

The gig: Pam Marrone, 60, heads Marrone Bio Innovations in Davis, Calif., a leader among startups competing for a slice of the market in natural pesticides.

Unlikely start: Feeding worms was Pam Marrone’s first job at U.S. agrochemical giant Monsanto. That may seem like an inglorious assignment for a budding entomologist with a freshly minted doctorate from North Carolina State University. But in 1983, no one had yet figured out a way to keep the southern corn root worm alive in the laboratory long enough to study why it succumbed to a lowly soil bacterium that farmers had used since the 1950s to protect their crop.

“Oh, my God, what have I accepted?” Marrone recalled thinking. “I took every ingredient possible that was in a failed, not-quite-good-enough artificial diet, changed it by plus or minus 10 percent and came up with a diet that was good enough.” That diet became the industry standard for rearing Diabrotica undecimpuncta.

“I have to laugh now,” Marrone said. “That was my claim to fame.”

More importantly for Monsanto, the artificial diet ultimately allowed scientists to splice a strand of genetic code from bacteria into corn, effectively giving the crop a built-in pesticide.

Bumpy road: Marrone’s path from genetically modified organisms back to her original avocation, finding natural ways to fight agricultural pests, was about as nasty as feeding worms.

Her first startup, Agraquest, was scheduled to go public Sept. 12, 2001, her attorneys had to flee the south tower of the World Trade Center.

New investors and a new funding round vastly diluted the value of her founder’s stake, so she never reaped the windfall of the company’s eventual sale to Bayer for $425 million.

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