Dow Donates DNA Fermenter to National Museum of American History

June 9, 2005
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired an original Genentech Inc. fermenter for its Medicine & Science collection from current owner Dowpharma, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company. Dow announced the donation June 9 at The Chemists’ Club’s Winthrop-Sears Award Dinner honoring biotechnology pioneer and Genentech co-founder Herbert Boyer. The Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia hosted the event. Fermentation, one of the oldest technologies used to make alcoholic beverages and fermented foods, was applied to the new technology of recombinant DNA in the 1970s to commercially produce proteins such as human insulin and human growth hormone. Used by Genentech from 1977 to 1985, this fermenter was among the first to generate these therapeutic proteins. The stainless steel fermenter stands 9 feet tall and is 3 feet in diameter. “For DNA to have an impact on society—to be more than just a static molecule, a laboratory exercise—it had to become a component of a useful industrial process,” said Ramunas Kondratas, the museum’s curator of medical history. “The new scientific field of recombinant DNA pioneered by biochemists Herbert Boyer, Stanley Cohen and others made that possible.” “We are honored to share part of Dow’s rich heritage in biotechnology in the form of this significant reminder of one of the earliest practical biotech advancements,” said Nick Hyde, global business director of Dowpharma. “Dow’s work today continues our commitment to preserve the history of the life science community.” The Genentech fermenter will join an array of scientific instruments in the museum’s collections that document the history of biotechnology, genetic engineering, molecular biology and medicine. These include Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock’s microscope; brass plates from James Watson and Francis Crick’s original DNA model; Stanley Cohen’s laboratory equipment from Stanford and notebook recording his 1973 cloning experiment; and an Applied Biosystems Inc. DNA sequencer used in the Human Genome Project. The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit or call (202) 633-1000 or (202) 357-1729 (TTY).