GENTECH archive


GE Klebsiella

Agbioview posting
From: "Mieschendahl Dr., Martin" <>
Subject: Discredited Scientist To Come To New Zealand

Discreditied scientist to come to New Zealand, NZ Life Sciences
Network, February 14, 2002

The work of Dr. Ingham has been published in 1999: M.T. Holmes, E.R.
Ingham, J.D. Doyle, C.W. Hendricks Effects of Klebsiella planticola
SDF20 on soil biota and wheat growth in sandy soil Applied Soil
Ecology 11 (1999) 67-78

This publication deserves some comments.

I became aware of the work of Dr. Ingham on the genetically
engineered soil bacterium Klebsiella planticola SDF20, at least part
of which was the thesis of M.T. Holmes at the Graduate School at
Oregon State University (OSU), in August 1995 by a handout
distributed by green groups in Germany. This handout was the copy of
a fax of Michael T. Holmes and Elaine R. Ingham, Department of Botany
and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
97331-2902, dating back to Nov-28-1994.

In September 1995 I recieved a second handout of the same authors,
this time distributed by members of the green party of the European

Finally I got a copy of the publication in Applied Soil Ecology.

All three papers are on the same issue: Into Klebsiella planticola
strain SDF15 that hade been made kanamycin resistant by phage Mu
pf7701 infection, the plasmid pZM15 was introduced by conjugation to
construct strain SDF20. Plasmid pZM15 carries a pyruvate
decarboxylase gene that enables strain SDF20 to ferment agricultural
waste to ethanol. Strains SDF15 and SDF 20 were assessed in
microcosms to analyse the effects to soil food web and plant growth.

One of the main results was the death of wheat seedlings that were
grown in low organic matter, sandy soil after the addition of the
genetically engineered strain DSF20 but not with the non-genetically
engineered strain DSF15. As the publication shows there were no
negative effects on the soil microflora: (citation) "The introduction
of either SDF15 or SDF20 strains to soil without plants did not alter
the nematode community. No effects were observed on the activity of
native bacterial and fungal communities by either SDF15 or SDF20."

The recombinant strain SDF20 had no improved environmental fitness.
As Fig. 1 of the publication shows, the survival in soil of the
recombinant strain SDF20 is even worse compared to the
non-recombinant parental strain SDF15. Both strain level off after 8
weeks at approximately 100 cells g-1 what (citation from the handout)
"is normal for populations existing in soil".

The publication in Applied Soil Ecology only describes experiments
performed in low organic matter, sandy soil. The handouts, on the
other side, also mention experiments performed in soil amended for
their organic matter by the introduction of peat. In these
experiments no killing of what seedlings by SDF20 was observed.

Last but most important, the handout of November 1994 describes a
control experiment that was neither included in the handout of
September 1995 nor the publication in Applied Soil Ecology, the
addition of ethanol instead of strain SDF20. Citation from the 1994
handout: "Plants in the GEM microcosm treatment were chlorotic and
dying, while plants in the control and parent microcosm treatment
were healthy. The same chlorotic condition of plants was measured
when we added ethanol directly to soil microcosms at the same
concentration produced by the GEM".

So what conclusions can be drawn from the work of Holmes and Ingham?
The introduction of bacteria, genetically engineered or not, will
have transient influences on the resident microflora as would have
any introduction of organic matter. There was no influence of the
recombinant strain SDF20 on the bacterial and fungal biomass or on
the activity of the native biomass. The number of bacterial-feeding
nematodes was even higher after the introduction of the
no-recombinant parental strain SDF15 than after the introduction of
the recombinant strain SDF20. The recombinant strain SDF20 shows the
same environmental survival as the non-recombinant parental strain
SDF15. The only negative effect seen was the killing of wheat by the
recombinant strain SDF20 in low organic, sandy soil but not in high
organic matter soil. The same killing effects occurred after the
edition of ethanol instead of strain SDF20. So the killing of wheat
seedlings by SDF20 in low organic matter soil is due to the
production of ethanol by strain SDF20 and not due to any other
unrecognised effect caused by the application of genetic engineering

There is no reason to believe that the introduction into soil of this
recombinant Klebsiella planticola strain will be more deleterious to
the environment than the introduction of the non-recombinant parental
strain or any other micro-organism.

One can only speculate why the publication in Applied Soil Ecology
does not describe the control experiments mentioned in the handouts.
Without this knowledge the non-expert reader can only draw wrong
conclusions as Ms Ingham does.

- Martin Mieschendahl