Lucia Garcia-Iniguez Marshall ’75

Basement Biochemist

By Maureen Harmon

Lucy Marshall

In 1994, when her then-employer, Monsanto, asked biochemist Lucy Marshall to transfer, she weighed her options and decided to leave the company to stay home and care for her two small children. She told her husband, who was distressed at the loss of a second family income, not to worry.“I’ll go to work in the basement,” she said.

She meant it. In the basement of her home in St. Charles, Missouri, she created a consulting company called Trans America Product Technology, Inc. (TAPT). With a borrowed balance, she worked on new formulations to create products and technologies for use in all kinds of industries, from veterinary to pharmaceutical to cosmetic. Marshall stuck to her basement laboratory, working for small companies from afar until a Canadian company asked to meet her in person. She couldn’t exactly welcome a customer into her basement for a conference, so she headed over to the business incubator in St. Charles and asked for the use of a conference room. The management went a step further and offered her lab space, on one condition: she could rent the lab—which was the site of a recent explosion—if she were willing to clean it up.

In its new home, TAPT continued to grow. In 1998, it launched a spin-off called Biosorb, a bioscience company that provides natural products for the horticultural, agricultural, landscape, and environmental industries. Biosorb is rooted in a technology patented by Marshall called Biocar®, a microsponge delivery system similar to those used in pharmaceuticals (think nicotine and insulin patches). One product in particular, TopFilm™, has proven to be what Marshall calls the bread and butter of the company.

To keep their crops free from pests and weeds, farmers face an environmental and financial conundrum: they have to spray chemicals on their products several times a year. The chemicals adhere to the products just fine until rain comes, then they’re washed off and head into local water systems, leaving farmers to start over, sometimes spraying as many as five times a year. The chemical buildup and runoff, not to mention the use of crop planes several times a year, takes its toll on the environment and on farmers’ bank accounts. To solve that problem, Marshall created TopFilm™, which uses the Biocar® technology to deliver chemicals to crops.

TopFilm™ is what biochemists call an adjuvant, or additive, that growers can add to herbicides, insecticides, or pesticides. It’s composed of biological carriers—all-natural microsponges that can absorb huge amounts of dry or liquid ingredients. Once the chemical is sprayed on crops, TopFilm™ goes to work. When the morning dew makes its daily appearance, the microsponges become wet and release the chemicals onto the plant. As the day wears on, the sponges dry, repeating the process with the next day’s dew. The system not only reduces the amount and frequency of chemical applications, it also cuts back on chemical pollution of waterways by reducing runoff. Texas Green Magazine (September 2008 issue) commended Biosorb’s new technologies for conservation and sustainable practices.

Though Marshall’s company is a David taking on the chemical industries’ Goliaths (they’re not thrilled that Marshall’s products reduce the amount of chemicals growers need to use), Biosorb is growing quickly. In 2002, the company had two distributors. Now there are 25, including vendors in Puerto Rico, England, and Costa Rica. And, her husband can’t complain when she heads to the basement to work.