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This jumpsuit was worn by a scientist from Advanced Genetic Systems during the first release of genetically modified microorganisms into the environment approved by the federal government.
The organisms, a genetically modified version of naturally occurring bacteria from the genus Pseudomonas, were sprayed on test fields of strawberry plants in Monterey County, Calif., to increase their resistance to frost.
In nature, Pseudomonas can be found on the surface of many plants. The bacteria contribute to problems with frost on crops because they produce a protein that promotes the formation of ice. In hopes of reducing frost damage to crops, scientist Steve Lindow at the University of California altered the bacteria to stop producing this protein. The University patented these “ice-minus” bacteria and licensed the technology to Advanced Genetic Systems, a company based in Oakland, Calif. AGS hoped to bring the bacteria to market as an ice-proofing spray for crops called “Frostban.”
After careful review, the U.S. government approved field tests of Frostban. Despite the review, public fear of releasing these bacteria into the environment remained. Some scientists raised concerns that the ice-minus bacteria could replace the natural bacterial population. Because of their ice-forming abilities, the natural bacteria play a role in the creation of precipitation. This fact led some to worry that damage to the natural population could have repercussions for rainfall and weather patterns.
Activists against Frostban broke into test fields and uprooted plants to be sprayed several times throughout the field trials. After four years of tests, Frostban was found to be effective in reducing frost damage to crops. Due to continued public discomfort with genetically modified organisms, however, AGS never marketed the product. The company feared that the expense of fighting legal battles to get it to market would outweigh possible profit.
“Public Fears Factored Into Gene-Altered Bacteria Tests.” Griffin, Katherine. The Los Angeles Times. April 18, 1988. p. AOC11.
“Bacteria on the Loose.” Fox, Michael W. The Washington Post. November 26, 1985. p. A16.
“Chapter 5: Ecological Considerations.” Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States. Field-Testing Engineered Organisms: Genetic and Ecological Issues. 2002. pp.94–95.
“Chapter 4: The Release of a Genetically Engineered Microorganism.” Schacter, Bernice Zeldin. Issues and Dilemmas of Biotechnology: A Reference Guide. 1999.
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- Protective Jumpsuit. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anmah_1390161&repo=DPLA. (Accessed October 16, 2019.)
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- Protective Jumpsuit. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anmah_1390161&repo=DPLA
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- Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America <http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anmah_1390161&repo=DPLA>.