Locus Fermentation Solutions (Locus FS) is a biotechnology firm that uses microbial metabolites to develop various products for health and beauty, agriculture, and industry. This private company was started in 2013 in Solon, Ohio, and has opened offices in five different states across the country (“Locus Fermentation Solutions,” 2020). One of the distinguishing features of this firm is that they utilize green technologies to produce non-toxic biological materials to reduce the negative impact of chemicals on the environment and human health. Furthermore, Locus FS’s policy is not to use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in production because the debate about using recombinant DNA technologies is ongoing (Mathur, 2018; “Microbials, metabolites, and biosurfactants,” n.d.).
Instead, they developed new fermentation practices that can increase the product yield. Still, the process of adjusting methods can be costly and inefficient for newly discovered compounds. Moreover, GMOs do not equal environmentally-unfriendly products because modern genetic engineering techniques reached maximum control over the outcome. Therefore, the objective of this change management plan is to propose shifting Locus FS non-GMO policy to implementing genetic modification of specific products in the Research and Development department.
The proposed change aims to alter the company’s vision about utilizing recombinant DNA technologies; thus, it can be viewed as policy and process change. Since it is a significant shift from the initial organizational approach, this change can be considered transformational. According to Termeer et al. (2017, p. 559), transformational change “requires innovative governing strategies and the development of new governance intervention repertoires” and implies fundamental alterations in a company’s philosophy. The innovative strategy and in-depth change, in this case, are introducing genetic modification methods in research and subsequent production of the firm’s products.
Reason for the Change
Environmental pollution with toxic chemicals and an increase in the rise of chronic diseases increased public awareness about the importance of developing new methods of manufacturing items of daily needs. Indeed, many substances, like benzene, pesticides, toluene, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, used in industry are not biodegradable (Saxena et al., 2020). Therefore, the founders of Locus FS decided to start a company that would be selling environmentally-friendly products that will be affordable and sustainable. Moreover, the firm was able to develop and patent various fermentation techniques that facilitate the release of different biosurfactants by microorganisms cultivated in bioreactors (“Microbials, metabolites, and biosurfactants,” n.d.).
However, many of the developed methods had to undergo a blind trial-and-error process because some microbes and their metabolites are poorly investigated. Although Locus FS uses bioinformatics tools to determine genotypes and predict phenotypes, the company chose not to use genetic modification in research and production. The inability to control bacteria and yeast used for obtaining biosurfactants slows the entire production process due to the need for subsequent extraction, purification, and verification steps.
Genetic modification is widely used in research and industry at present. Food, supplements, vaccines, new therapeutics, and many other products are developed with the help of recombinant technologies. For example, acquiring genetic engineering techniques in crop production in South African regions with unfavorable climates helped diminish food scarcity (Muzhinji & Ntuli, 2021).
Moreover, microorganisms can be modified to detect and degrade toxic compounds such as hexane, toluene, naphthalene, camphor, and xylene (Saxena et al., 2020). Using such microbes for degrading dangerous chemicals is called bioremediation while utilizing modified plants for this purpose is called phytoremediation (Saxena et al., 2020). Genetic engineering tools allow creating of an organism with specific features, selecting the desired characteristics, and eradicating unnecessary traits. Therefore, implementing methods of recombinant technologies can simplify and boost manufacturing.
The initial stages of this change will be narrow because it will be introduced in the Research and Development department. Still, the project is considered a broad scope because it requires a radical change in the primary mission of Locus. Indeed, transformational change is always large-scale because it is “about changes in the way of looking, thinking, and acting, with sweeping consequences” for legislation, regulation, and finances (Termeer et al., 2017, p. 562). Furthermore, this change is a lengthy and costly process; however, it can bring significant benefits in the future.
The current situation in the company is that genetic engineering techniques are not utilized in any process. Furthermore, one of the mission statements of Locus FS is “to deliver highly potent, non-toxic and non-GMO microbial, metabolite, and biosurfactant solutions in cost-effective and commercially-viable quantities” (“Microbials, metabolites, and biosurfactants,” n.d.). Indeed, the company CEOs believe that replacing toxic chemicals with biodegradable materials is the key to reducing environmental damage. However, they seem to consider GMO products as potentially dangerous and less competitive on the market. Therefore, Locus’s leaders chose to focus only on improving the fermentation process without introducing changes in microorganisms’ DNA.
Introducing this transformational change can alter the company’s future direction and status in the biotechnology market. The new mission can sound like “Locus FS intends to reduce the release of toxic compounds, reducing environmental and health hazards, with the help of recombinant DNA technologies.” The older fermentation techniques will still be an integral element of large production. Still, a genetic modification will allow the Research and Development department specialists to generate organisms with the desired features. Furthermore, most scientific literature appears to agree on GMO safety (Tsatsakis et al., 2017).
Thus, most claims and conspiracy theories about GMO products seem to be invalid. Furthermore, a global survey demonstrated that North American and African people have an overall positive attitude towards GMO food (Kwak et al., 2020). It suggests that Americans will likely prefer purchasing cosmetics and household supplies produced by genetic modification to items with toxic chemicals that can cause various incurable diseases.
Before introducing this change, the leaders and managers of the company should conduct surveillance of employees’ perception of the firm’s transformation. Based on the survey results, the management should decide how to introduce evidence-based information about the safety of GMO products. Indeed, it is tragic that one of the most valuable tools invented by scientists is not utilized completely (Muzhinji & Ntuli, 2021).
Information among employees will be spread by corporate emails and during the weekly meetings in the form of engaging presentations. Furthermore, the department leader will create a team working with recombinant DNA technologies, responsible for the entire process of producing genetically modified products, including literature review, project plan development, and establishing working protocols. The management will need to hire a supervisor for the team who should be a researcher experienced in genetic engineering. Although some workers have a good understanding of the process, they lack enough experience. Finally, the team will also present intermediate and final results to colleagues and Locus’s directors.
Although it is a transformational change for the firm, the process implies an almost negligible change from a larger perspective. Introducing the stage of genetic modification at the initial stages suggests creating a microbe with selected necessary traits and eliminating dangerous ones. There are multiple recombinant technologies known, and the most popular method in modern days is CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) (Muzhinji & Ntuli, 2021). For example, a recent report from China states that this method was used to create wheat that is resistant to a fungal disease (Muzhinji & Ntuli, 2021). This technique revolutionized the process of genetic modification, making it simple and inexpensive.
Since the Research and Development team will perform all the steps associated with this change, some role modifications and purchases will be required. Specifically, new reagents and a biosafety cabinet should be ordered. The positions and salary of employees will not be affected, but the company should hire one or two professionals in this field. They will guide and train the team on the new methods and behaviors in the lab when working with genetically modified organisms. Indeed, GMOs are often introduced with antibiotic resistance genes at the intermediate steps; thus, the disposal should be carefully regulated (Mathur, 2018).
Moreover, the downstream fermentation and production processes will need to be slightly modified because the growth conditions for modified organisms may change. Therefore, the team will need to provide detailed and verified protocols to other departments that will work on large-scale production.
Changing policy from a non-GMO-oriented firm to a company that produces some materials using genetic engineering requires document amendments and website adjustments. The current guidelines are shared with the employees in electronic form via Intranet and as a hard copy. The same channels of sharing new information will be utilized. Furthermore, Locus has recently adopted a corporate document management platform that allows systematizing available data. The changed mission and vision will be uploaded as a separate folder on this platform. Still, there are no ongoing processes related to GMO knowledge. Other projects are managed in Microsoft Teams; thus, the new project will be regulated similarly.
Cost of Change
Since the change will require purchasing new reagents and equipment, amendments to official documentation, and recruiting new staff, the approximate cost of this transformation will be $150,000 per year. Locus FS is a private company with funding from investors. For example, a recent report estimated more than twenty million dollars of investments (“Locus Fermentation Solutions,” 2020). Therefore, this change needs to be discussed with the primary stakeholders.
Although this change will occur on a molecular level, the two unintended consequences should be considered. Firstly, accidental disposal of microbes with antibiotic resistance from intermediate steps can be devastating because bacteria in the environment can quickly acquire this trait by natural transformation (Mathur, 2018). Therefore, the department’s researchers should consider engineering additional safety mechanisms that will result in self-destructive mechanisms in the bacteria during such accidents. Indeed, modern biotechnology tools allow modeling such systems and circuits. The second consequence is that GMO products can cause allergic reactions in some people (Mathur, 2018). Thus, future customers should be warned about possible adverse effects.
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