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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Apocalypse, Interrupted

Mad Scientist
I envy these bio-engineers. They have the coolest of cocktail hour chatter on the tips of their tongues. "Oh, we almost destroyed the planet fifteen years ago, didn't ya know?" This occasional raconteur is, well, green with envy. (Edited excerpts follow, please link through and read the whole thing. Article brought to my attention by kirk murphy at FireDogLake, thanks very much.)
The first fourteen species [of Genetically Modified Organisms] that we worked on - microorganisms, bacteria. and fungi - were organisms incapable of surviving in the natural environment. Putting them in the world would be like taking penguins from the South Pole and dropping them into the La Brea tar pits. Would there be any ecological effect if we dropped a penguin into the middle of the tar pit? Probably not; the impact would be rapidly absorbed by the system.

These first fourteen species of GMOs that we tested had a similarly negligible impact....

GMO number fifteen, however, was a very different story. Klebsiella planticola, the bacterium that is the parent organism of this new strain, lives in soils everywhere. It's one of the few truly universal species of bacteria, growing in the root systems of all plants and decomposing plant litter in every ecosystem in the world.

The genetic engineers took genetic material from another bacterium and inserted that trait in the GMO to allow Klebsiella planticola to produce alcohol. The aim of this genetic modification was to eliminate the burning of farm fields to rid them of plant matter after harvest. [Y]ou could, instead, rake up all that plant residue... inoculate it with the engineered bacterium [and] you would have a material that contained about 17 percent alcohol. The alcohol could be extracted and used...

So what's the problem?...
The article describes some controlled experiments which prove that this bacteria did indeed result in "drunk dead plants."
...extrapolate it to the real world. Given that the parent organism lives in the root systems of all plants, what's the logical outcome of releasing this organism into the natural environment?

Very possibly, we would have no terrestrial plants left....
It goes on to discuss the resistance to acknowledging the very real dangers posed by unrestrained genetic modifications and the need for the "no duh!" research done on the killer bacteria at the United Nations "biosafety protocol meetings" (Ah - so that's what they're calling the the CYA apparatus for Monsanto multinationals.)
How far does a single-point inoculation of a genetically engineered organism spread in one year? An engineered Rhizobium bacterium that was released in Louisiana in the mid-1990s spread eleven miles per year and has by now dispersed across the North American continent...
David Blume's "addendum" to this article lends a real chill to the whole affair, and winds up deliciously droll:
I talk about the Klebsiella debacle in detail in my book, Alcohol Can Be A Gas, and it was actually a lot worse than this post relates. The original researchers threw out samples behind the lab and discovered the dead plants, got curious and discovered that the Klebsiella was alive and they had to dig up all the soil and incinerate it. Dr. Ingham subsequently elucidated the mechanism. I would add that the organism was engineered to eat cellulose and make alcohol. So in addition to the alcohol poisoning of the roots the bacteria was also eating the cellulosic root tips of the plants. I often tell this story and add that we really need to lock up all the genetic engineers in a very nice country club type prison since they have nearly ended life on earth several times already with bonehead projects like this.

Slightly off topic, but if you follow the link to Blume's book, Alcohol Can Be A Gas, you will find that it is another hosanna for bio-fuel, which I have ranted against before. I poked around the blogs and found some discussions, and this one is pretty representative. I'm sorry, but I could find nothing substantive to sway my position. Indeed, this
David Blume makes the powerful argument that ethanol is simply liquid solar power...
compels me to childishly write "no duh!" twice in this post, and tell me again how diverting solar power from its current duties to allowing us all to go putt-putt around the planet at our leisure is an "energy solution?"

The planet has been "doing something" with its solar bath since before we appeared on the scene, and she is still using that energy. Blume relies a whole bunch on his "philosophy" of energy use transforming our world view so that we would use this energy in "synergistic" and nifty ways. Of course, we would only require just a teeny bit of it, we being so disciplined and all...


Update: kirk murphy at it again. Troublemaker, he.

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