How the Fuck Could This Possibly Happen?!
How did the leading biotech researchers of the day not realize that they had engineered a bacterium that would kill all plant life it touched? Did they not test it on any, you know, plants?!
Well, for all intents and purposes: No, they didn't.
See, the Environmental Protection Agency was the only overseer for all biotech releases, and their policy was to test new bacteria in sterile soil. The problem here being that the real world is not sterile; it is the antithesis of sterile. The whole point of sterility is to zap all normal, unexpected elements out of a sample environment so that the scientists can see its effects in a pure, untainted environment. They deemed the modified K. planticola to be safe in sterile soil, but apparently just totally forgot that its intended use was in the fucking dirt, which is a notoriously dirty place, isn't it?!
Luckily, Ingham and her group took it upon themselves to study the bacteria in a more realistic scenario, using normalized samples of unsterile soil and three different sample groups. There was a group absent of K. planticola entirely, a group with the normal K. planticola present and a group with the genetically modified K. planticola in it. They planted wheat seeds in all three groups, and then let it sit for a week. When they came back they found the first two groups doing fine, while all the crops from the GM sample were dead. Dead in less than a week. If released from the lab--which, I cannot stress enough, it very nearly was--the modified K. planticola would have spread worldwide in a matter of months, killing all plants it touched within a week, and turning all soil-based plant life into sweet, sweet liquor.
Like a twisted hillbilly fantasy, the world really very nearly drowned in moonshine.
Klebsiella planticola--The Gene-Altered Monster That Almost Got Away
A GE Bacterium That Could Have Killed All Plants
"Effects of Klebsiella planticola on soil biota and wheat growth in sandy soil." M.T. Holmes et al., Applied Soil Ecology 326:1-12, 1998
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