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Gaining insights into potato cells

Viruses and bacteria are the lifeblood of GATC, a family-run biotechnology company that is continuing to grow in spite of the current economic downturn.

Peter Pohl is in good spirits. In the company meeting room, the CEO of GATC Biotech AG is visibly relaxed as he talks about bacteria, fast food and Ferraris. Business is excellent, despite the current economic crisis. The company analyses DNA for universities, Max Planck Institutes and pharmaceutical companies. At the moment, GATC is working on the sequence of one particular vegetable – the potato: GATC scientists are trying to decipher the entire DNA of a potato cell. The results will be used in industrial applications: knowing the metabolism of organisms can make production cheaper (in the case of fast food for example) or can contribute to the protection of the environment. There are now washing agents on the market that are effective at temperatures as low as 20°C.

Thomas and Peter Pohl (from left to right) are expanding the family business further. The photo shows the two scientists in front of one of their quick DNA analysis laboratory machines.
Thomas and Peter Pohl (from left to right) are expanding the family business further. The photo shows the two scientists in front of one of their quick DNA analysis laboratory machines. © Hanser

The genome of viruses, bacteria, and even human beings can be investigated using expensive machines. Peter Pohl calls the latest models of these machines “Ferraris” as they are considerably quicker than older versions. “The performance of our machines has increased threefold over the last two years,” said Peter Pohl. The biotech sector in general is developing very fast: the company were paid 50,000 Marks for their first project, carried out on behalf of Byk Gulden. Nowadays, for the same job the company would only be able to charge 150 euros. “But in fact, this is to our advantage,” said Peter Pohl explaining that “when times are hard, companies tend to commission us for work rather than purchasing expensive analysis systems and doing the work themselves.”

Company premises have more than doubled in size

It all began 19 years ago. Fritz Pohl, the father of Fritz, Thomas and Peter Pohl, was the first person to set up a sequencing company in Europe back in 1990. At first, the company operated out of rooms at the University of Constance where Fritz Pohl was a molecular biologist. He named his company GATC – Gesellschaft für Analyse, Technik und Consulting – Company for Analysis, Technology and Consulting. But GATC also stands for the four initial letters of the four bases that constitute DNA: guanine, adenine, thymine, cytosine. The company started with a team of two and has since grown to a team of 96. Pohl’s sons Fritz (Chairman of the Supervisory Board) Thomas (CTO) and Peter (CEO) are working to further expand the company and they are planning to recruit eleven more people. Not for the first time, the company building at Jakob-Stadler-Platz has become too small and the company has submitted a building application to add another 1000 square metres to the existing 800. It is not always easy to find the right people for the company’s ambitious plans. But those who manage to get a job at GATC are rewarded with a very pleasant atmosphere: “The quantities of cake eaten to celebrate birthdays, the arrival of new team members or christenings are enormous,” said the CEO, laughing. The excellent atmosphere persists in the laboratories: All the analysis devices have nametags on them, and are given names such as Ken and Barbie or Donald and Pluto.

GATC does not want to overextend itself, despite its excellent growth perspectives. “We want to continue being the market leader in Europe, but we are not currently planning to expand into North America,” said Peter Pohl adding that the company is currently observing the Asian market. GATC Biotech AG has also gone through difficult times: In 2001/2002, it did not achieve expected sales revenues and as a result had to let some staff go. “The outlook is not always sunny; sometimes there are heavy storms,” said Peter Pohl adding “such storms have made us even stronger.” Previous experience strengthens the management team and enables the three brothers to tackle the current crisis. “Despite the current global gloomy outlook, there are brighter times ahead,” said Peter Pohl, “we are striving to keep our momentum going”.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/gaining-insights-into-potato-cells