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Biological lock-and-key for GMO safety

By Tim Sandle     Jun 26, 2015 in Science
Researchers have developed a way to allay one concern with GMOs entering the environment. This is based on a molecular lock-and-key, to inactivate unwanted microbes.
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a term applied to any organism for which its genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering. GMOs are the source of many potential pharmaceutical products. A prime example is with the production of insulin. Equivalent studies are underway with the production of thyroid hormones.
Further examples of genetically engineered products are the chemical Aspartame used in sugar free foods, and the drug hepatitis B vaccine.
Many argue that medicines based on GMO technology represent the future, in terms of improving drug delivery. To others they are "Frankenstein" creations, where there are bio-containment risks. This debate has been ongoing for years and shows little sign of quieting down.
A new tranche of research may, according to the scientists behind in, off-set some of the concerns about escaped genetically modified organisms.
To avoid escaped bacteria from causing potential problems, scientists have examined a strain of Escherichia coli. Here they focused on five genes needed by the bacterium to survive. They then modified these genes so that they needed the addition of the molecule benzothiazole in order to function. A form of benzothiazole is the light-emitting component of luciferin, found in fireflies.
In doing so, when removed from the benzothiazole source the bacterium would be unable to grow and divide. This means that genetically engineered organisms created in this way would potentially not be a risk to the environment, should it accidentally be released into the environment. This is because the genes that need to be "turned on" for survival.
The research has been published in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology. The paper is headed “Synthetic Auxotrophs with Ligand-Dependent Essential Genes for a BL21(DE3) Biosafety Strain.”
More about Genetically modified organisms, Gmo, Bacteria, Cells
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