Weeds strangle biotech giant

10.02.27: IMGEN, the biotech multinational, is filing for bankruptcy with debts of E$50 billion. It is the largest company to go bust in American history.

The company was already weakened by a E$100 billion action brought by those affected by the unchecked growth of datura, the hallucinogenic superweed. It was finally broken by the failure of the entire US cotton crop, grown from ImGen-engineered seeds introduced in 2010. Many believe that the disaster heralds the end of genetically engineered agriculture.

"The project was always a monstrous piece of hubris," said Ken Redwood of Biosphere50, the eco-action group. "It was conceived at the end of the last century as the magic bullet to save agribusiness from the vicious spiral of fertilisers and pesticides. But it was always a mad techno-fix."

Critics have long warned that genetic engineering could go terribly wrong. "I predicted exotic effects from inserting even single genes into crops," said Professor Tom Urmstead of Warwick University. "There are cases of plants becoming 20 times more promiscuous when the alien gene disrupted genes controlling fertilisation."

The first serious problem arose when datura, a poisonous plant, acquired herbicide resistance from one engineered relative, the tomato, and insect-predator resistance from another, tobacco. Within five years it had covered 2.5m hectares of the southwest of America.

Then a new and virulent fungus struck the cotton crop, causing millions of genetically identical plants to wither. The question that now arises is: who pays? JB