The formula is simple: a little water and a few scoops of dead Pseudomonas Syringae, a common bacterium. The result is snow. But to the owners of many ski resorts, regularly facing bankruptcy when nature refuses to deliver snow in the ordinary way, that simple formula could be worth millions of dollars. And BIO-FROST Inc., a Hamilton, Ont., subsidiary of Greenwich, Conn.-based Advanced Genetics Sciences Inc., plans to turn the advantages of genetically engineered snow into its own multimillion-dollar business by the end of 1985. The commercial prospects are so promising that both the National Research Council and BIO-FROST will split the $550,000 cost of hiring the Alberta Research Council (ARC) to develop a method for commercially producing SNOMAX, as the freeze-dried bacteria powder is called, in a recently completed $3-million pilot plant in Edmonton. Said John Unsworth, BiO-FROST’s president: “There have been numerous, very positive inquiries about SNOMAX from the ski resort industry.”
The secret of SNOMAX is a protein that it produces which attracts water molecules and, at -1.2°C, aligns them so that ice crystal formation can begin. When added to water in the snowmaking equipment which is already in place in many resorts, SNOMAX may provide both a better-quality product than the icy crystals of conventional snowmaking and much-improved efficiency. Unsworth said that the average ski resort, short of snow, will need only two to three pounds a day. Added Unsworth: “At 23 to 25°F, the temperature at which most snow is made, SNOMAX is about 80 per cent more efficient than conventional snowmaking machinery.” He estimated that that efficiency could save Canadian ski resorts at least $100 million a year in energy costs.
Unsworth said that limited amounts of SNOMAX produced at the ARC pilot plant could be tested on some hills this winter and that he is confident enough of success that the company will also begin construction of its own $30-million Edmonton plant by the end of next year. If BIO-FROST can satisfy the needs of skiers, it plans to turn its attention to Canadian farmers—by perfecting a genetically engineered version of Pseudomonas Syringae that will help prevent the formation of frost on sensitive crops.
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