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Mad cow disease in the Netherlands - and not from a British cow. It's only a single case, but the European Union is monitoring the situation and the Dutch agriculture minister called it "the worst news I could have". The disease was diagnosed in a five-year-old cow, offspring of an American bull and Dutch dam, on a dairy farm that does not trade in animals. "Veterinary experts are looking at several possibilities, one of which could be that it was a spontaneous outbreak," an EU official said yesterday. Or the cow had eaten infected feed imported from the UK. Three calves of the infected cow have been traced. The only surviving calf has now been slaughtered.

PPL Therapeutics, which helped give us Dolly the cloned sheep, has been successful in producing calcitonin using a transgenic rabbit. PPL shares rose: producing calcitonin in rabbit milk gives PPL an "in" to a market it estimates as worth more than pounds 500m annually. Calcitonin can be used to treat osteoporosis (bone-wasting) or Paget's disease, but currently has to be injected or taken nasally.

Heard of beta-catenin? Maybe you should - it seems to play a role in the development of colon cancer and melanoma, or skin cancer. According to reports in last week's Science, excessive amounts of beta-catenin seem to disrupt genes. If the cell's normal "housekeeping" genes do not control the chemical, it can link to another protein - Tcf-Lef. The study may explain why people with colon cancer usually have a mutated form of a cancer suppressor gene, APC (adenomatous polyposis coli). Normal APC removes beta-catenin; if it mutates and fails, beta-catenin accumulates, combines with Tcf-Lef and disrupts other genes, heading the cell towards malignant growth. A separate study found abnormally high levels of beta- catenin in seven of 26 human melanoma cell cultures.

Biotechnology is booming across Europe, with employment up 50 per cent and 15 per cent growth in the last year. "It's buzzing right now," said Bill Pike, a biotechnology partner at consultants Ernst and Young. "That means something like 7,000-plus employees in the UK and 25,000 in Europe" - compared with between 150,000 and 200,000 in the US. Mr Pike also said that total biotechnology revenues for 1996 were up by 20 per cent, to 1.15 billion ecus (pounds 860m) and there were 584 companies. These, he predicted, would grow by 20 per cent in 1997. He added that Britain, like the US, tends to invest in healthcare-oriented companies; continental Europe is skewed towards agricultural biotechnology.

It's your fault. At least, that's what the US Department of Agriculture reckons: the controversy in Europe about genetically modified crops mixed in with standard crops is viewed as "a very, very serious situation". The EU ruled last year that genetically engineered US soybeans and maize did not pose health threats. But Germany, Italy, Austria and non-EU Switzerland have seen protests about the imports. The situation could be even more messy this year, as American producers may sharply increase spring plantings of the gene-altered crops.

It's their fault. So said a panel of people in the oilseed industry last week. "I would give the genetic development industry low marks for their interaction with the consumer," said Harry True of Frito-Lay, a crisp manufacturer that is a large user of vegetable oils. The particular strain that has people upset is a herbicide-resistant strain of soybean developed by Monsanto.

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