German chemical giant Bayer’s development of genetically modified (GM) soil microbes could pose risks of widespread soil contamination and adverse effects on agriculture, Your News reported.

As part of a bid to replace traditional fossil-fuel-based agrochemicals with genetically engineered microbes, Bayer has been developing GM soil microbes in collaboration with US biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, the 17 January report said.

However, in its report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gingko highlighted the potential risks associated with the release of these modified organisms into the environment.

Gingko’s report acknowledged that the full effects of deploying GE organisms into uncontrolled environments were unknown and could have unintended consequences.

The potential dangers of GE soil bacteria were highlighted by Dr Elaine Ingham, a former associate professor at Oregon State University.

Dr Ingham led a study on a GE soil bacterium, Klebsiella planticola, which was initially intended to convert plant waste into alcohol for fertiliser or fuel. Dr Ingham’s research discovered that the modified bacterium not only killed all tested plants but also had the potential to eliminate all terrestrial plant life.

As a result of Dr Ingham’s findings, the commercialisation of the genetically altered bacterium was prevented, but her affiliation with the university also ended, Your News wrote said.

Bayer’s venture into GE microbes, including its partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks and US sustainable agriculture company Pivot Bio, was part of its broader strategy in the biologicals sector, the report said.