In 1977, Steven Lindow, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, discovered that a mutant strain of the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae altered ice nucleation on leaves in a way that enabled plants to resist frost. He continued the work at the University of California, Berkeley, and a decade later, with the blessing of the appropriate federal agencies and the townfolk of Tulelake, Calif., Lindow planted 3,000 potato seedlings coated with "ice-minus" bacteria. By the next morning, vandals had ripped out half the plants. Lindow repeated the experiment, successfully.

Similar experiments did not set loose giant carnivorous rutabagas on the world, and while the Flavr Saver tomato was controversial, hoopla surrounding genetically modified (GM) plants largely died down in the United States. But that appears to be changing. In response to anti-GM decisions by foreign and domestic customers, U.S. grain processing giant Archer Daniels Midland recently asked...

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