Jeans dyed blue by bacteria may soon be available. Walter Weyler and his colleagues at Genencor International in Palo Alto, California have genetically modified bacteria to produce the indigo pigment used to stain denim. The process would be a less-polluting way to dye jeans than chemical indigo production.

Originally extracted from plants, indigo dye is now made from coal or oil, with potentially toxic by-products. Bacteria have previously been adapted as alternative indigo manufacturers, but a trace by-product turns the jeans a shade of red.

Weyler engineered genes of the bacterium Escherichia coli to eliminate the red pigment. The final color is ?indistinguishable? from the deep blue of the chemically made dye, says Doug Crabb, vice president of Genencor.

Before the chemical process was invented, people used plants such as woad and dyer?s knotweed to make indigo by soaking their leaves in water to release the color. Biochemist Philip John of the University of Reading in the U.K. is heading a project to re-introduce indigo producing crops into Europe as a natural alternative to chemical dyes.

Both Biotech and plant production would have to become highly efficient in order to keep up with the world’s obsession with blue jeans. 16,000 tons of dye are produced annually, almost all of which is used on denim. Says John, ?There?s no other dye that will give that characteristic color. It?s got to be indigo.?

You may wear GM-colored jeans, but you may not want to eat GM food. To find out, read ?Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers? by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston,click here.

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