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ACCELL Gene Gun Protoype

ACCELL Gene Gun Protoype

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Description (Brief)
The first gene gun was the brainchild of John Sanford, a plant geneticist working at Cornell in the early 1980s. The invention was a crude but ingenious concept: use the principles of a normal gun to blast DNA-covered microbullets at plant cells, thereby introducing foreign DNA and creating transgenic plants. As word of Sanford’s research spread, genetic engineers at Agracetus, the Middleton, Wisconsin-based biotech firm found their own inspiration.
Spurred by word of Sanford’s gun, Agracetus employees Dennis McCabe and Brian Martinell invented a gene gun of their own in 1986. Cobbled together from scrapped radar station parts McCabe had purchased years earlier from the University of Iowa and potato chip bags from the Agracetus vending machine, the prototype, seen here, utilized a high-voltage electric shock to transform a water droplet into a shock wave that drove DNA-coated microparticles of gold into plant tissue. By April 1988, McCabe and Martinell had used the gun to create the first genetically transformed soybeans. Their success led to a deal with Monsanto to develop RoundUp Ready soybeans.
Over the course of the 1990s, Agracetus developed the prototype gene gun into a marketable product, christening it ACCELL technology for “ACcessing any CELL.” The guns were licensed to Grace and DuPont in April 1992, and by November 1994 Agracetus reached an agreement with Bio-Rad to manufacture and market the guns.
“Agracetus: Patenting all transgenic cotton.” Bijman, Jos. Biotechnology and Development Monitor. Vol. 21, Issue 8. 1994.
Charles, Dan. Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and The Future of Food. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books. 2002. p.80­84.
“Particle Gun Transformation of Crop Plants Using Electric Discharge (ACCELL Technology).” Paul Christou and Dennis McCabe. Probe. Vol 2(2): Summer 1992.
“ACCELL Gene Therapy” Informational Pamphlet, Agracetus, Inc. Gene Gun Research Files, Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History.
“Agracetus and Bio-Rad Announce Alliance to Manufacture and Market Gene Delivery Instruments.” Press Release, Agracetus, Inc. 11 November 1994.
“Grace and DuPont Cross-License Key Genetic Engineering Technologies.” Press Release, Agracetus, Inc. 20 April 1992.
Object Name
gene gun
date made
place made
United States: Wisconsin, Middleton
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
glass (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
insulated wire (overall material)
average spatial: 29.9 cm x 22.8 cm x 80.6 cm; 11 25/32 in x 8 31/32 in x 31 23/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Dennis McCabe
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Biological Sciences
Biotechnology and Genetics
American Enterprise
Science & Mathematics
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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The Agracetus Gun gun revolutionized the approach to research on plant geminiviruses by the research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990. Our research team had cloned several bean-infecting geminiviruses but had not been able to infect plants with these cloned DNAs. Dr. David Russell at Agracetus coated gold particles with the cloned geminivirus DNA and bombarded bean radicales with these particles. These cloned DNA's produced symptoms on inoculated beans typical of infections caused by virions transmitted by the natural vector, the whitefly. Also this technology was used to produce the first transgenic common bean by Agracetus, and eventually a particle gun was used by Brazilian scientists to engineer the first commercial common bean resistant to a geminivirus. Gilbertson, R.L., J.C. Faria, S.F. Hanson, F.J. Morales, P. Ahlquist, D.P. Maxwell, and D.R. Russell. 1991. Cloning of the complete DNA genomes of four bean-infecting geminiviruses and determining their infectivity by electric discharge particle acceleration. Phytopathology 81:980-985. Aragao, F.J.L., E.O.P.L. Nogueira, M.L.P.Tinoco, and J.C. Faria. 2013. Molecular characterization of the first commercial transgenic common bean immune to the Bean Golden Mosaic Virus. J. Biotechnol. 166:42-50. I was the principal investigator for this initial research on bean-infecting geminiviruses: Dr. Douglas P. Maxwell, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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