Genetically modified organisms hold a lot of promise for creating hardier crops and faster growing fish, but even supporters are concerned about invasive organisms running wild. If a faster, better, stronger strain of bacteria escaped the lab, how would we stop it? Now, scientists have come up with a new solution: self-destructing DNA.
Published today in Nature Communications, the system would use cutting-edge gene-editing tools to erase DNA as soon as a given organism leaves its designated area, destroying both the cell and its genetic information. The result is a so-called “kill switch,” eradicating any experimental or proprietary organisms before they can escape into the wild.
As GMOs become more ambitious and widespread, researchers have grown increasingly interested in containment techniques. In February, a group of Harvard scientists published a kill-switch system that used amino acids toward the same end.
The system published May 19 goes even further, targeting the DNA itself. Not only will the cells die, but the genetic information used to create them will be obliterated without a trace. That’s particularly useful for commercial GMOs, since companies treat their GMOs’ genes as trade secrets. The system is even precise enough to target specific portions of DNA, so a company could delete only the modified genes, leaving the others untouched.
The current version is only a proof of concept, and researchers expect more challenges as the system grows more complex.
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