BERKELEY, CALIF.—On April 29 Steven E. Lindow drove seven hours to the remote Tulelake area of northern California to begin open-air tests of bacteria genetically altered to combat frost formation on potato plants. For the University of California at Berkeley plant pathologist, however, the trip marked the end of a five-year journey.

In 1982 Lindow discovered that the removal of a specific gene from the ubiquitous bacterium Pseudomonas syringae could shut down production of a chemical responsible for the early formation of ice crystals on plants. He suggested that plants colonized primarily by the altered bacteria instead of the wild type could be protected from frost damage even when the temperature was well below freezing.

His proposal to test the idea triggered a storm of controversy and legal battles that are still raging. Although there were no demonstrators at Tulelake, five days earlier there were hundreds of reporters and protesters...

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