Are genomically recoded organisms needed to keep GMOs on a leash?

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Let’s talk about the latest news. Last week we reported on two papers in Nature describing breakthrough techniques in modifying E. coli bacteria to ensure that they would be unable to thrive if they escaped containment. They’ve been engineered to require a synthetic amino acid to stay alive. That amino acid doesn’t occur in the natural world. This would, in effect, keep the microbes on a leash.

But there are skeptics, including Denise Caruso, author of “Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on the Biotech Planet.” She told that it’s hard to measure accurately the risks posed by genetically engineered microbes.

“Microbes are opportunistic. Bacteria. Viruses. They want to stay alive, and they will, given incredible odds against them,” she said.

A different objection to the new research came from Steven Benner, Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida. He said the new technique solves a non-existent problem. “… any genetically modified organism (GMO) is less fit, less able to survive, get married, and have children in any natural environment. Different if the environment is doused with herbicides; then the plant having an herbicide detoxifying gene is fitter. But remove the herbicide, and the native strain will take over (if it is still around). That is, if you are worried about damaging an ecosystem, you worry about the herbicide, not the GMO.”

Read full, original article: Scientists are actually creating microscopic life in laboratories. Should you worry?

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