The Government is investigating a potential outbreak of
genetically modified fungus at Lincoln University.
Two secured laboratories and a greenhouse have been locked
down as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) checks the
Lincoln University researchers informed MPI and the
Environmental Protection Agency on March 7 that it had
evidence to suggest a fungus (Beauveria bassiana) supplied
for research was potentially a strain modified genetically to
include a marker so it could be traced in plants.
The fungus had been believed to have been a "wild strain"
that is already present in the environment and so was being
researched outside approved genetically modified (GM)
Work undertaken by the researchers indicated that the fungus
had already been genetically modified.
After the alarm was raised, containment procedures were put
Experts are testing whether the fungus is genetically
modified and, if so, the extent of its presence outside
approved GM containment facilities.
"The university and MPI take potential breaches of
containment very seriously and the investigation into how it
occurred will be thorough," university vice-chancellor
Stefanie Rixecker said.
"Although there is no evidence to suggest the genetic
modifications made to the fungus in question have increased
any health risk to humans or animals, there is a clear
process that we must follow to ensure containment and that
the same breach cannot happen again."
The fungus was being researched on campus property in glass
houses and laboratories with restricted access.
MPI and the university say they are confident that all of the
known samples and plant materials containing the fungus are
The fungus Beauveria bassiana occurs naturally in soils
throughout the world, including New Zealand, and infects a
wide range of insect species.
It is used as a biological insecticide to control a number of
The scare should be a "massive wake-up call" to New Zealand's
environmental regulators, the Green Party said today.
"It's absolutely not acceptable that almost two weeks after
this breach the ministry still doesn't know how it occurred,"
genetic engineering spokesman Steffan Browning said.
"New Zealanders are constantly reassured that GE organisms
are contained securely when used in research, but here we
have another example of those restrictions not working. We
deserve answers now about what has gone wrong here, and how
the Ministry are going to assure it doesn't happen again."
Lincoln University and Crown Research Agencies have
previously been implicated or found responsible for other GE
experiment breaches, with some trials closed down, Mr