Life Technologies Inc., created in 1983 when Bethesda Research Laboratories merged with the Gibco Corp., agreed last week to sell the microbiology division of Gibco to Becton, Dickinson and Co., a manufacturer of medical products and diagnostic systems.

Gibco has two units: A cell biology division, which sells to researchers, and a microbiology division, which makes test tubes and other equipment that microbiologists use to conduct tests on blood, urine and tissue.

According to a letter of intent, Becton, Dickinson will purchase the assets of the microbiology division, including the property, equipment and inventories at certain LTI facilities. These facilities include a plant in Lawrence, Mass., that produces prepared media in tubes and bottles and a plant in Madison, Wis., that produces plated media for petri dishes and dry powder media. LTI's distribution centers, in New Jersey, California, Indiana and Florida, are under lease agreements. The total purchase price is estimated to be $5 million.

Life Technologies is selling the division because "it isn't meeting the returns we need in this business," said Vice President John D. Thompson. It was at a break-even point, and "in the long term the division is not the best for the business," Thompson said. The division represents about 15 percent of the company's business.

LTI is concentrating its business on research and advanced diagnostic products. It is working on refining the production of enzymes that are used to manipulate DNA through recombinant techniques. These enzymes help researchers analyze the structure, composition and function of DNA.

In the field of advanced diagnostics, LTI is focusing on sexually transmitted diseases, although it is not involved in work on acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It has developed DNA probes to test for human papillomavirus -- the virus plays a significant role in the development of cervical cancer in women -- and a hepatitis B detection kit. Both tests are marketed in Japan through an agreement with Toray Industries Inc., and are awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration in this country.

LTI has a larger stake in its Gibco line of cell biology products than in its microbiology products. "Strategically, we are not placed in the microbiology diagnostic products market the way Becton, Dickinson is," said Thompson.

Becton, Dickinson, a $1.3 billion company, is a leader in the microbiology diagnostic field. The company's diagnostic segment accounted for $500 million in sales last year.

"Purchasing Gibco will be a big plus for our microbiology division," said Ronald Jasper, the director of investor relations for Becton, Dickinson. "There are a lot of regional competitors out there, but we view Gibco as the single most significant national participant in this business," he said.

The Student Loan Marketing Association loaned Johns Hopkins University $14 million to finance the expansion of the Space Telescope Science Institute and $3.5 million to refinance several dormitory loans from the federal government.

The $14 million loan represents the first financing of a new academic facility by Sallie Mae.

The Space Telescope Science Institute is leased to an association of universities that conducts astronomical research for NASA. The space telescope will function as a remotely controlled observatory in space, transmitting data to NASA and the institute that astronomers around the world can use, according to John Lordan, vice president for business affairs at Johns Hopkins.

The James River Corp. has consolidated its two communication papers divisions, Communications Papers-West and Communications Papers-East, into the Communication Papers Business. Ernest S. Leopold, senior vice president, group executive and head of the new organization, said "the consolidation brings certain synergies to our manufacturing and distribution systems."

James River Communication Papers has more than 9,000 employes and operates 37 paper machines at 12 paper mills in the U.S., Canada and Scotland.

The new business will be divided into four sales and marketing groups and two manufacturing groups. The sales and marketing groups are Business Papers Group, Premium Printing Group, Printing Papers Group, and Groundwood Specialty Papers Group. The Northeast and Northwest groups are responsible for manufacturing and support services.

ICF Inc., a national professional and technical services firm based in the District, last week established a subsidiary called ICF Defense Group, which it said will acquire one or more companies in the national security, defense and intelligence fields. The company said the group also will build a national security consulting practice and form joint ventures in related areas.

Bernard F. McMahon Jr. and Harlan K. Ullman have been appointed managing directors and senior partners of the group and have also been named executive vice presidents of the firm.

Systemhouse Inc. of Alexandria has received a contract from Unisys Corp. of Detroit to supply $2.3 million of software to Washington State's Department of Social and Health Services for a $30 million computer system. Systemhouse will design and develop the Community Services Management and Operations System according to state specifications. The system is intended to help the state administer human services such as food stamps, Medicaid and state grant programs. --