Two teams of scientists have shared the results of research projects they conducted that limit the ability of genetically modified organisms to survive where they’re not meant to, creating what one terms a “genetic firewall.” The scientists created a strain of bacteria that cannot survive without a specific man-made chemical, thus achieving bio-containment (albeit in a laboratory setting).
“In the new studies, teams led by Church and a former colleague, Farren Isaacs, created strains of E. coli bacteria that both contain DNA for a man-made amino acid and require synthetic amino acids to survive.
Because the amino acids do not exist in nature, said Isaacs, now at Yale University, the resulting “firewall” means any GMOs that escaped a lab, manufacturing facility, or agricultural field would die.
By pairing genomic recoding with this firewall, biologists could create escape-proof microbes which, by incorporating novel amino acids, could produce entirely new types of drugs and polymers, Church said.”
The technique has not yet been tried in plants or animals, but if it succeeds, it could theoretically be used in a wide range of settings, including food production, synthesizing chemicals and biofuels, and manufacturing drugs.
There has been considerable resistance to the use of GMOs because of fears of bio-contamination. Will these advances in synthetic biology be a game changer?