Bayer

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

In a lab at George Washington University, painted lady butterflies flutter in mesh houses. This is where assistant professor Arnault Martin and his research group use the new gene-editing technique CRISPR to unlock secrets about the colors and spots on the butterflies’ wings.

CRISPR has allowed them to isolate a precise gene that controls wing appearance, and they can shut it off at will.

The fields and back roads of eastern Arkansas were a crime scene this past summer. State inspectors stopped alongside fields to pick up dying weeds. They tested the liquids in farmers' pesticide sprayers. In many cases, they found evidence that farmers were using a banned pesticide. Dozens of farmers could face thousands of dollars in fines.

Monsanto, a company based in St. Louis for more than 100 years, is now part of Bayer.

The roughly $63-billion acquisition closed Thursday, nearly two years after the companies first announced the deal. Regulators in Canada and Mexico were among the last international watchdogs to approve the combination.

The U.S. Department of Justice signed off on it late last month after Bayer committed to shedding about $9 billion in several areas to chemical giant BASF.

That includes Bayer's Liberty-brand herbicides, which compete with Monsanto's Roundup.

Originally, it was just a name — Olga Monsanto's name, to be precise.

Around the turn of the 20th century, she married a man named John Francis Queeny. He named his artificial sweetener company after her. And over decades, that company expanded from the sweetness business into agri-chemicals, where it began to dominate the industry.

In the global debate over neonicotinoid pesticides, the company that makes most of them has relied on one primary argument to defend its product: The evidence that these chemicals, commonly called "neonics," are harmful to bees has been gathered in artificial conditions, force-feeding bees in the laboratory, rather than in the real world of farm fields.