Klebsiella planticola
Addison Raine

Klebsiella planticola is an interesting bacterium. It seems to be a normal bacterium with an uninteresting life, but then some scientists in Germany found out how to genetically engineer it for greater purposes, with devastating consequences. The GM (genetically modified) strain was rushed through testing and could have lead to devastating terrestrial problems if it had been left unchecked.

K. planticola is of the genus Klebsiella, which is a non-motile rod-shaped gram-negative enterobacterium . This is one of the exceptions to the enterobacteria family, which are mainly mammalian, gut-inhabiting bacteria. This however resides on the root systems of plants. K. planticola of strain SDF 15 is the environmentally-safe, natural bacterial strain. K. planticola (SDF 15) is the parent cell line for another strain, which is called K. planticola (SDF 20). K. planticola (SDF 20) is a genetically engineered version from Germany which was designed to increase the production of lactose fermentation of agricultural wastes .

Careless testing of this strain of K. planticola allowed it to almost enter the public domain, before research by independent scientists (Dr. Elaine Ingham, et al.; Oregon State University) showed that this GM-strain actually killed any wheat planted into the soil where the GM-strain was dispersed. Plant matter was to be collected along with GM K. planticola in large containers for ethanol production. After the plant matter was decomposed, there would be a deposit left over that would be rich in nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur-basically a good fertilizer. It was after this residue was redistributed on the fields that it would do its damaging deed. K. planticola actually sticks to the root system of plants by creating a slime-like layer. The GM- K. planticola would then be connected to the plants root system and while it is there it would produce ethanol in levels of 17 ppm (~1-2 ppm ethanol is deadly for plants) , . K. planticola can attach to any plants, not just wheat, so essentially all global plant life could have been put into jeopardy because of a genetically altered bacteria.

This microbe was interesting to me because as a future biochemical engineer, I was interested at how little testing is required before allowing a GM product into production. I hope that I am able to ensure a high level of environmental protection when I am employed later in life. K. planticola is a great example of how seemingly non-dangerous alterations can actually create devastating consequences on the genetic level.

The Free Dictionary.com. “Klebsiella Definition”. 2004. <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/klebsiella>. February 29th, 2004.
Union of Concerned Scientists. “Wi98: Update on Risk Research”. 2002. <http://www.ucsusa.org/publications/gene_exchange.cfm?publicationID=266>. February 29th, 2004.
Organic Consumers Association. “Klebsiella planticola--The Gene-Altered Monster
That Almost Got Away”. <http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/klebsiella.cfm.> February 29th, 2004.
Holmes, M.T., et al. “Effects of Klebsiella-planticola SDF20 on soil biota and wheat growth in sandy soil”. 1998. Applied Soil Ecology, 326. pp. 1-12.

*Disclaimer - This report was written by a student participaring in a microbiology course at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The accuracy of the contents of this report is not guaranteed and it is recommended that you seek additional sources of information to verify the contents.

 

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