Scientists have crafted a bacterium incapable of surviving without human assistance. Using this strategy to build genetically modified organisms would prevent those GMOs from escaping into natural ecosystems, they say.
Genetically modified bacteria are commonly used in research and industry – for example, the bacterium E. coli is used to manufacture insulin and other drugs.
Whether bacteria could ever escape from those settings and wreak havoc in the natural world is unclear, but many members of the public feel containment strategies are necessary to prevent such a leak.
Scientists have tried many tactics to contain GMOs by manipulating their genes, but the bacteria eventually have found ways to evade those strategies, reverting back to their natural form. It became clear that any manufactured containment system would need multiple fail-safe layers.
Now, a team of scientists led by Dr. George Church of Harvard Medical School, involving collaborators at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has created a molecular Fort Knox that they believe is evolution-proof, rewiring all of E. coli’s DNA to render the bug completely dependent on a synthetic chemical.