It sounded like an experiment that was all a molecular biologist could hope for. It had a noble purpose (the protection of nutritionally important fruits and vegetables), it was of great scientific elegance and theoretical interest, and it was perfectly safe.

It went like this. Take a common saprophytic bacterium, present in food, water and soil, and remove one of its 200-odd genes. Grow the organism in pure culture, spread it on plants that are harboring the wild type, and PRESTO! the massive culture of the engineered organism will prevent frost damage. The wild type of the organism contains the missing gene, but sometimes strains occur in nature without the gene. Therefore, nothing new is being turned loose into the environment, and surely no one should be worried.

Add to this the facts that an organism with one gene missing will be weakened by the omission, that strains with the...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!