I spotted this on Facebook:

Cynthia [sic]: Flesh-Eating Synthetic Bacteria that has Gone Wild

In 2011, Cynthia was unleashed in the Gulf of Mexico and in its initial stages of life it was absorbing oil slicks at breathtaking speed. In January, 2011 the Register reported that scientists were particularly impressed by the speed with which the bacteria was eating up its “meal”.

But then this bacteria mutated and soon was feeding on organic lifeforms. Strange reports started coming from the US, like five thousand birds falling victims of an “unknown disease” in Arkansas, or more that a hundred thousand dead fish found off the coast of north Louisiana. It was also reported that a total of 128 British Petroleum employees that participated in the liquidation of the oil slick were struck by some mysterious illness. According to various sources they were forbidden to seek relief in public hospitals, to prevent them from talking to anyone about what has happened to them…

Only relevant mainstream article I could find: The Mysterious Thing About a Marvelous New Synthetic Cell

“The 2010 paper was basically the control experiment,” says Venter. Their true mission was to create a cell with a minimal genome. [...]

And they’ve done it. Six years after Synthia, they’ve finally unveiled their bare-bones bacterium. And in piecing together its components, they realized that they’re nowhere close to understanding them all. Of the 473 genes in their pared-down cell, 149 are completely unknown. They seem to be essential (and more on what that means later). Many of them have counterparts that are at work in your body right now, probably keeping you alive.

And they’re a total mystery.

A Google search for "Synthia bacteria" gets all kinds of interesting results, but nothing that really tells me the origins of this alleged massive coverup.

Has Synthia gone rogue?


2 Answers 2


Upon closer inspection, it seems that this story can be traced to a single, very creative conspiracy theorist writing in 2010. As of 2020, the "World Vision Portal Forum" on which it was posted is no longer online, but an archived version can be found on the Wayback Machine.

The surprisingly well-written blog post "GULF BLUE PLAGUE: It's Not Wise to Fool Mother Nature" invents an extremely tenuous conspiracy from whole cloth. After explaining how Synthia was developed, the author abruptly switches to the Deepwater Horizon spill:

In a paper published in the journal Science, Terry Hazen and his colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered in late May through early June 2010 that a previously unknown species of cold-water hydrocarbon-eating bacteria have been feasting on the underwater oil plumes degrading them at accelerated rates. (11)

This is the writer's sole direct evidence that there is a mutant GMO bacteria in the water: the fact that the press release (the cited source) described the bacteria in the water as "previously unknown".

Unfortunately for him, the species may have been unknown, but Hazen et al. did determine the genera of these new bacteria: "Oceanospirillales, Colwellia, and Cycloclasticus of Gammaproteobacteria". These were confirmed by several independent studies in the years afterward. (source) Synthia, in contrast, is of the genus Mycoplasma of the class Mollecutes.

It's true that the team behind Synthia has a deal with Exxon-Mobil for future technology. But for this conspiracy to work, we would have to accept that this research team, which seems to enjoy publicity, kept secret their development of an entirely different genus and class of synthetic bacteria, which was then taken out of the laboratory and used in a secret oil cleanup project for the good of the environment. I'll be going with Occam's Razor for this one.


Most likely not. There are reports of flesh eating bacteria contracted at beaches, and these cases are uniformly from Vibrio infections. It appears that Vibrio likes to breed around oil spills, if that is the case then the association with Synthia was perhaps inevitable.

Nov. 5, 2013: [Doctor Cova Arias, professor of aquatic microbiology at Auburn University and vibrio vulnificus expert] set out to discover if vibrio were present in tar balls. She was highly surprised by what she found as she studied tar on the Alabama and Mississippi coasts. “What was clear to us was that the tar balls contain a lot of vibrio vulnificus,” said Arias. [...] “In general, (the tar balls) are like a magnet for bacteria,” said Arias. [...] “What we also found was in water, the numbers were about ten times higher than the numbers that have reported before from that area,” said Arias. So the water alone had ten times as much vibrio as before the oil spill

... Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation and an expert in marine microbial life. [...] “There’s no question bacteria, in general, increase following spills, and this includes Vibrios,” said Jim Oliver, a Vibrio specialist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. [...] The ingredients are there for heightened concern, Oliver added. The carcasses of bacteria feeding off the oil will increase overall nutrient levels [ref]

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