A research firm delayed the first authorized outdoor test of genetically altered bacteria for a week on Wednesday while a judge considers a bid by environmentalists to halt the experiment.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Darrel Lewis said Advanced Genetic Sciences voluntarily postponed application of the frost-inhibiting bacteria on plants in Contra Costa County so he can properly study the case before an April 23 hearing.
The Oakland-based company's attorney, Terry J. Houlihan, said Advanced Genetic Sciences delayed the test until April 24 to avoid a hurried ruling Wednesday on a request for a temporary restraining order.
Instead, Houlihan said, the case will be discussed April 23, when the judge considers the request by environmental groups for a permanent injunction against the test.
The groups' attorney, Scott R. Keene, said their suit alleges that the assessment of the test's potential environmental effects was inadequate.
Representatives of Advanced Genetic Sciences say no experiment has been so thoroughly tested before its field application as the bacteria known as Frostban.
The firm said it plans to apply Frostban to 2,400 strawberry plants on the edge of Brentwood in rural Contra Costa County, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Frostban has been shown in laboratory trials to knock out a frost-promoting bacteria and protect plants from frost damage at temperatures as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Frost damage costs American farmers an estimated $1.6 billion annually.