New biocontainment strategy could prevent spread of GMO microbes in the wild

GMO bacteria can be used to clean up oil spills: just one example of using genetic engineering. Image: Hindawi

Hiroshima University (HU) researchers successfully developed a biocontainment strategy for …. GMOs. Their new method prevents genetically modified cyanobacteria from surviving outside of their test environment …. Their results were published in ACS Synthetic Biology.

The applications of bioengineered microbes have appeared in a number of fields, including agriculture and energy production. However, like many other GMOs, the safety of engineered microalgae is uncertain.

Biocontainment strategies seek to stop outgrowth of GMOs in a specific area, like outside of the lab environment …. By engineering a microbe to depend on a certain nutrient that does not exist outside of its home environment, it will not survive if it escapes this environment.

Phosphate is abundant in the natural world; phosphite, on the other hand, is not.
Thanks to an enzyme called phosphite dehydrogenase, a small number of microbes can metabolize phosphite into phosphate. While organisms require phosphorus, many cannot use phosphite due to lacking this enzyme. [Researchers] took advantage of this naturally occurring process to create a biocontainment process for E. coli. Last year, [they] genetically edited a phosphite dehydrogenase gene into E.coli bacteria and removed its ability to take up phosphate.

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In this study, the group applied this system in microalgae, a kind of cyanobacteria that lives in water …. The viability of engineered microalgae rapidly diminished when it tried to grow without phosphite.

Read full, original article: New biocontainment strategy controls spread of escaped GMOs

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