Towards safer GMOs
Genetically modified organisms possess unnatural functionalities. They are opposed due to many reasons, one of which is the chance that they might transfer their unnatural properties to other organisms which might cause environmental damage (?).
In an attempt to make GMOs more environmentally safer, people have been trying to develop organisms which can't grow outside lab and also are incapable of transferring their unnatural properties to other organisms.
Dr. Farren J. Isaac's group at Yale University had developed E. coli strains which had both of the above properties (Rovner et al.). In the paper published in 2013 they reported the strains created by them. These strains were modified in such a way that they needed synthetic amino acids (sAAs) for their survival. This makes them impossible to grow outside lab where these amino acids are not available. They also are more resistant to viruses which are main vectors for transfer of genes from one organism to another.
One might think that mutations in these bacteria could allow them to evade these limitations, but the researchers have modified the DNA at various positions making it almost impossible to escape. Even though the research has been successful only in one species of bacteria, it is a landmark for further similar work to be done in other organisms.
Rovner,A.J., Haimovich, A.D., Katz, S.R., Li, Z., Grome, M.W., Gassaway, B.M., Amiram,M., Patel, J.R., Gallagher, R.R., Rinehart, J., et al. (2015). Recodedorganisms engineered to depend on synthetic amino acids. Nature advanceonline publication.