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Scientists Test Ice-Minus Bacteria in Potato Plot

April 29, 1987

TULELAKE, Calif. (AP) _ A second test of bacteria genetically altered to inhibit frost began Wednesday as scientists readied to plant potato seeds treated with an ″ice- minus″ strain.

The experiment in a half-acre site at a remote University of California field station near the Oregon border is the second test in less than a week involving bacteria genetically manipulated to fight frost, which causes an estimated $1.6 billion worth of damage annually to agriculture in the United States.

Similar bacteria called Frostban was sprayed on a strawberry plot Friday near the town of Brentwood, about 50 miles east of San Francisco.

The experiments are the first authorized outdoor testing of genetically engineered bacteria and follow years of intense legal and regulatory wrangling. The tests first were proposed in 1982.

The Tulelake tests involve treating potato seeds with pseudomonas syringae bacteria altered to eliminate its frost-inducing abilities at the site perched 4,800 feet above the Tulelake basin.

Scientists planned to plant the seeds on Wednesday, and when sprouts start appearing in three to four weeks, spay the sprounts with the ″ice-minus″ solution.

Spraying will take place when it is calm and windless, rather than any specific time. University and federal Environmental Protection Agency officials will monitor spraying until tests are finished. All plants used during the tests will be destroyed at the site and not used for food or feed.

Field tests are being performed on potatoes because most of the early research by UC Berkeley scientists was done on potatoes at Tulelake. Also, the researchers have a thorough understanding of the temperature and environmental conditions as well as crop responses that can be expected during experiments.

UC Berkeley plant pathologist Steve Lindow discovered removal of a single gene from the common bacteria pseudomonas syringae can transform it from a frost-inducer to a frost-fighter. It was his technique that was used in the Brentwood tests by Advanced Genetic Sciences Inc. of Oakland.

Lindow said he wasn’t disappointed not to be the first to test his discovery.

″Three or four days apart isn’t that big a deal, as far as I can tell,″ he said.

While vandalism threatened to delay or prevent the Brentwood tests by Advanced Genetic Sciences Inc. of Oakland, Tulelake residents opposing the bacteria experiment said they wouldn’t resort to property destruction.

″We’re not radicals up here,″ said opposition leader Ava Edgar. ″You give it your best shot and, if it doesn’t work, what else is there left to do? Vandalism wouldn’t do anything.″

Scott Keene, an attorney who represented opponents of the Brentwood and Tulelake tests, said he has been swayed by a 600-page environmental impact report prepared for the Tulelake project by UC authorities since last spring.

″These experiments are probably safe - I’ll be the first of the opponents to just out-and-out say that,″ he said.

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