Addictions are rarely beneficial. But in this case, they surely are. Scientists have found a way of limiting the possibilities of genetically modified bacteria to exist and live its normal life in the natural world. The Journal of Nature published on Wednesday two reports in which an amazing secret is revealed: if the bacterium is addicted to artificial food, it couldn’t possibly survive in the wild, because synthetic amino acids can’t exist in nature. As a result, artificial organisms can be tamed by starving to death.
The first experiment has developed on the basis of all results made while studying the E-coli. George Church, co-author of one of the two papers and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School states that this is a compelling solution to biological containment, even if it will have to follow a long way towards applying it in plants and animals.
Secondly, a private company named EvEvold, was formed by the team of Farren Isaacs, a Yale professor who worked in the past with Church’s laboratory at Harvard, in order to advertise their lab innovations. Their new method will mean business to companies that used modified bacteria in the process of producing chemicals, or in bio-hazard rendition.
“What we’re seeing here is an important proof of concept that re-coding genomes and engineering dependence on synthetic amino acids is technically feasible in not just E coli but other micro-organisms and multicellular organisms such as plants. On the tactical side, this is the first time that anybody had gotten an organism that can be very robust but nonetheless not escape from the laboratory. Modifying plants in the same way is definitely more of a challenge, but not out of reach”.
The resistance to viruses makes the microbes very strong and powerful.
Per contra, there are scientists that are doubtful and unconvinced by the methods of Mr. Isaacs and Mr.Church, saying that that it could not be so easy to apply them to complex organisms, even if their work has been very elegantly presented. The reason for that matter is that when the number of genes rises, there are many more possibilities of not being able to predict the consequences of these experiments. Also, Professor Alison Smith of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences believes that their premonitions are an extrapolation too far, because the genetic system of higher organisms of plans and animals are entirely different to that in bacteria.
But Farren Isaacs tries to keep it positive, as far as his team’s research is concerned.
“Having important safety features such as recording [or] the restriction of the viability of organisms to synthetic amino acids are going to be critical in trying to address these goals. In many ways we’re at the early stages from a biotechnology perspective… and endowing safeguards now is going to be important to allow the field to progress going forward.”
Image Source: The Liberty Beacon