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November 30th, 2018 / Phys.org

Hiroshima University (HU) researchers successfully developed a biocontainment strategy for genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Their new method prevents genetically modified cyanobacteria from surviving outside of their test environment, enabling ways to more safely research the effects of GMOs. 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. Engineered microalgae, for example, can help clean up oil refinery wastewater and work as a source of biofuel. However, like many other GMOs, the safety of engineered microalgae is uncertain.

“Engineered microbes could dominate some environment or attack an organism indigenous to it, and that could negatively affect biodiversity,” Ryuichi Hirota said, who is the primary author of this paper. Hirota is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Advanced Sciences of Matter at HU. “Additionally, microalgae is usually cultivated in ponds and other bodies of water open to the environment. To overcome that risk, one strategy is to apply a biocontainment system in microalgae.”

Biocontainment strategies seek to stop outgrowth of GMOs in a specific area, like outside of the lab environment. Hirota was particularly interested in “a passive strategy,” the aim of which is to alter a microbe’s nutrient requirements. By engineering a microbe to depend on a certain nutrient that does not exist outside of its home environment, then it will not survive if it escapes this environment. Read more