Microbiology

4

Snomaxand Ice-minusBacteria

Sincethe early 1980s, pseudomonasbacteria have been studied extensively for their ice nucleationproperties. The bacteria species is found abundantly in nature,especially in plant surfaces and soil. Studies have established thatthe presence of the Pseudomonassyringaebacteria on the surface of the plants is responsible for freezing ofwater on the surface causing frost damage on crops (Morris et al.,2008). The bacteria produced a surface protein called ice nucleatingprotein, which allowed water to freeze temperatures above thefreezing point. This phenomenon is applied in artificial iceformation, in a product known as Snomax. On the other hand, agenetically modified strain of this bacterium, ice-minusprotects plants from frost (Morris et al., 2008).

AlthoughSnomax is not a genetically modified product it has attracted a lotof attention from environmentalists. This has resulted in a ban insome countries such as Germany and Austria. Snomax was developed inthe United States and is mainly used in the Alps during wintersports. The product makes water freeze into snow faster, even atrelatively high temperatures and lower humidity (Boyle, 2015). Snomax is derived from pseudomonassyringiaebacterium. Although the manufacturers of the product do not provideadequate information about the formulation, and whether it containedpurified ice nucleation protein or bacteria cells that produce theprotein, there is no genetic modification involved. Some expertshave argued that impacts on the product on the environment,especially individual using the product or snow developed using theproduct, can result in adverse health effects (Boyle, 2015). However,the product cannot be subjected to the precautions associated withgenetically modified organisms.

Theice-minusbacteria have become popular among scientists and farmers due to itsability to protect plants from frost. During cold weather, farmerssuffer huge losses due to ice droplets that form on the surface ofcrops. The discovery of ice-minusbacteriahas promised to cushion farmers from crop damage associated withfrost. When ice forms on the surface of the plant, the intercellularand intracellular structures are also frozen. This damages the planttissues (Kurz et al., 2010). The ice-minusbacteria are mutant or genetically modified pseudomonassyringae. This strain of mutant bacteria does not have the ability to producethe ice nucleation protein, which is produced by the strain foundnaturally in the ecosystem. Therefore, they do not have thecapability of facilitating the formation of ice on the surface ofplants. The strain is genetically engineered by removing or alteringthe specific gene responsible for the production of the surfaceprotein that facilitates the formation of ice. Consequently, thepresence of the ice-minusbacteria on the surface of the plant provides unfavorableenvironments for the formation of frost. This protects plants fromfrost damage during cold weather (Kurz et al., 2010).

Sinceice-minusbacteria are genetically engineered, they should be subjected toprecautions required for the release of genetically modifiedproducts. This includes analysis by the Food and Drug Administrationto verify the chemical composition, which could have allergenicpotentials. The safety of the technology must also be tested andsupervised by government agencies such as Department of Agricultureand Environmental Protection Agency. These precautions are necessaryeven in cases where there are not significant threats associated withthe technology.

References

Boyle,D. (2015). Coulda Swiss ski-ing holiday make you ILL? Snomax fake snow – banned inAustria and Germany but used in the Alps – is bad for your health,says French study.Available athttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3360831/Could-Swiss-skiing-holiday-make-ILL-Snomax-fake-snow-banned-Austria-Germany-used-Alps-bad-health-says-French-study.html

Kurz,M. et al (2010). Genome-driven investigation of compatible solutebiosynthesis pathways of Pseudomonas syringae pv. Sytingae and theircontribution to water stress tolerance. Appliedand Environmental 76(16):5452-5462.

Morris,C.E. et al (2008). The life history of the plant pathogen Pseudomonassyringae is linked to the water cycle. TheISME Journal2: 321-334.