When I first read a description of the symptoms of Morgellons Disease, it sounded too bizarre to be true. People describe itching, burning and the sensation of bugs crawling underneath their skin. Lesions develop that never heal, and parasites crawl out from open sores. Fibers of unknown origin and various colors appear beneath the skin and sometimes protrude, causing sharp pains. Could this be real? People suffering from Morgellons report that they are frequently diagnosed as delusional and prescribed antidepressant or antipsychotic medication.

However, the CDC has been studying this disease, which they call “Unexplained Dermopathy,” since 2006. There are now over 15,000 families registered with the Morgellons Research Foundation who claim to have been affected. And celebrities like Joni Mitchell and baseball player Billy Koch who have come out with this disease have helped to raise the profile and ease the stigma of this unfamiliar and unsettling condition.

Joni Mitchell gave a rare interview back in April in which she told a reporter from the LA Times: “I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it's from outer space…fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral…I'm actually trying to get out of the music business to battle for Morgellons' sufferers to receive the credibility that's owed to them.”

Though Morgellons has been met with an unprecedented level of skepticism from the American medical establishment, a few scientists and doctors have taken it seriously. Some preliminary research suggests that there may be a link between Morgellons and a pathogen known as agrobacterium tumefaciens, which is used in the production of some GMOs.

Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a well-known nuisance to many farmers. It is responsible for crown gall disease, which is characterized by a tumor-like growth on the plant and affects crops such as corn, beets, nuts and many fruits. Agrobacterium tumefaciens manifests its symptoms by inserting itself into the DNA of the host plant. Because of this characteristic, scientists experimenting with genetic engineering have appropriated it for their own purposes. They found that by “piggybacking” the desired foreign DNA on an agrobacterium and then exposing it to cells of the host plant, they could achieve a transfer of many different kinds of genetic material.

Dr. Vitaly Citovsky, one of the first scientists to examine samples of fibers sent to him by Morgellons patients, observed in a report for SUNY, “Morgellons skin fibers appear to contain cellulose. This observation indicates possible involvement of pathogenic Agrobacterium, which is known to produce cellulose fibers at infection sites within host tissues.” Furthermore, he reported, “Our continuing screen of additional Morgellons patients has identified Agrobacterium genetic material in three additional individuals. Thus, all Morgellons patients screened to date have tested positive for the presence of Agrobacterium, whereas this microorganism has not been detected in any of the samples derived from the control group of healthy individuals.”

Most recently, the University of Bristol issued a press release stating that the presence of agrobacterium tumefaciens in genetically modified organisms suggests an alternate route by which GM genes could find their way into the natural environment. In addition, some scientists are beginning to sound the alarm that agrobacterium tumefaciens is capable of transforming not just plant cells, but human cells as well. No one has yet put all the pieces of the puzzle together. But the evidence suggests what many have been saying since the start of genetic engineering: don’t mess with Mother Nature. The consequences could be disastrous, overwhelming and irreversible.