The genetic engineers took genetic material from another bacterium and inserted that trait in the GMO to allow Klebsiella planticola to produce alcohol. The aim of this genetic modification was to eliminate the burning of farm fields to rid them of plant matter after harvest. The idea was that you could, instead, rake up all that plant residue, put it in a bucket. and inoculate it with the engineered bacterium, and in about two weeks' time you would have a material that contained about 17 percent alcohol. The alcohol could be extracted and used for gasohol, for cleaning windows, or for myriad other uses: cooking with alcohol in Third World countries, for instance... [but could the bacteria] wash into the root systems of your plants? Most likely. Once it's there and growing in the root systems of your plants, it's producing alcohol. What level of alcohol is toxic to plants? It's one part per million. How much alcohol does this engineered organism produce? Seventeen parts per million. Very soon you will have drunk dead plants.
The author asks what the consequences of an escape and spread of this bacteria would be:
Very possibly, we would have no terrestrial plants left. Some plants, such as riparian and wetland plants, have mechanisms for dealing with alcohol production in their root systems. But the logical extrapolation of that experiment is that we would lose terrestrial plants.
My question is: could this problem actually occur, i.e. could this bacterium indeed survive and spread "in the wild", and how likely is it that this would occur?
If not an actual spread of the organisms, what about a spread of their genetic material? We know that bacteria are wont to exchange genetic material, happens all the time (latest example: Sewage-treatment plants described as giant 'mixing vessels' after scientists discover mutated microbes in British river).
Ae we just the right escape or gene-exchange away from a major biosphere change?