Originally published January 21 2015
Scientists take lesson from 'Jurassic Park' in desperate attempt to keep GMOs contained
by Jonathan Benson, staff writer
(NaturalNews) As genetic scientists venture deeper down the murky rabbit hole of life re-engineered, they're having to take a step back and acknowledge that many of their reckless modifications could, and likely will, have permanent ramifications. Taking a page from the famous Jurassic Park story, the industry is now attempting to engineer safeguards into biotechnology to prevent the indiscriminate spread and mutation of genes, but it may already be too late for this.
One of the latest iterations of genetically modified (GM) life, known as "synthetic biology," seems to most closely resemble what was depicted in Jurassic Park -- entire organisms built from the ground up, much like the fictitious dinosaurs in the story, that contain or rely on synthetic amino acids, proteins and various other substances in order to live.
As you may recall from the movie (or the book, if you were so inclined to read it), the dinosaurs engineered to live in Jurassic Park were intentionally lacking in the amino acid lysine. They could only survive if park staff fed them this important nutrient regularly, which was intended as a type of firewall in case they escaped.
GMOs can morph to break firewalls Problems arose, of course, after it was discovered that the dinosaurs could get lysine from natural organisms like chickens, soybeans and even other dinosaurs, allowing them to survive in the wild indefinitely. This is the premise of the entire story, with desperate scientists forced to come up with some other way of containing the dinosaurs.
Though this popular story is entirely fictitious, it is actually playing out today as GMOs take on new lives of their own, spreading their genes indiscriminately and encouraging the growth of chemical-resistant "superweeds" and "superbugs" that are killing off our food crops. With the cat already out of the bag, containing these organisms to prevent further harm is nearly impossible.
But scientists are trying anyway, as they attempt to develop new biocontainment measures to prevent GMOs from surviving outside the lab or other confinement area. A pair of studies published in the journal Nature explains how genetic firewalls are a novel attempt at protecting nature from the destructive forces of GMOs -- but is this a case of too little, too late?
George Church, a Harvard Medical School biologist and one of the authors of the studies, told Reuters that the process can be applied to all sorts of organisms, including both plants and animals. By developing "genomically recoded" organisms, which go one step further than traditional GMOs, scientists may be able to prevent, or at least greatly limit, genetic spread, cross-contamination and other risk factors.
Genetic scientists trying to double-proof by building fake DNA, amino acids into modern GMOs Church and his former colleague Farren Isaacs created multiple strains of E. coli bacteria that contained altered DNA requiring the presence of a manmade amino acid. Not only was the DNA fake, but so was the manmade amino acid itself, both of which need to be present in order for the E. coli to survive.
Should this special type of E. coli ever unexpectedly escape from the team's possession, it wouldn't last very long without being fed the synthetic amino acid. So in a way, the technology goes beyond even what was depicted in Jurassic Park.
"The bacteria are now dependent upon an amino acid that they cannot find out in the wild, it has to be fed to them in the lab, because it is artificial," wrote Steven Novella for NeuroLogica Blog. "Further, the genetic code of these bacteria have been changed. They no longer share that code with the rest of life on earth, they are truly synthetic organisms. This makes them resistant to certain viruses."
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