Scientists have discovered a way by which they can limit the spread of genetically altered microorganisms if they escape from labs to the nature. Scientists said that they have modified bacteria in such a way that if they get out of human controlled-premises, they will not be able to survive. The step is an important advancement because these genetically modified species could lead to disease and pose an ecological threat if they enter nature. Scientists also aim to extend the concept to genetically modified plant species to keep their growth within limited premises.
Genetically altered microbes are increasingly cultivated in labs because they are deployed to produce industrial fuel, medicine and also some chemicals. The study was conducted by scientists from the Harvard University and the Yale University. Their study was published in the article Nature as two papers. The scientists explained that they altered the DNA of the bacterium E. coli such that they would die if they do not receive particular amino-acids. This would help researchers keep the bacteria within limits because the amino acids are synthetic and not available in nature. Hence, the bacteria could be fed these amino-acids only by humans.
The technique has roped in interests from external scientists as well because of the potential it holds. In this context, Yale University’s Ferren Isaacs and Harvard’s George Church proposed that the technique could be extended to crops modified in a similar way as these bacteria. But the task could be more challenging because crops have a more complex genetic system. However, if it is achieved, it would help limit crops to designated fields only.
Scientists across the world have made such attempts several times in the past. One such study offered “suicide genes” as a potential solution. But the new technique is superior to the other known techniques.