Research highlight

Synthetic biology: An inbuilt kill-switch to control GMOs

Nature Communications

May 20, 2015

A built-in CRISPR-based device, designed to target specific DNA sequences for destruction in genetically modified organisms, is described in a paper published online in Nature Communications. Controlling the destruction of specific DNA sequences could have applications ranging from preventing the release of genetically modified organisms to helping to protect the intellectual property of biotechnology companies from theft.

The concerns regarding the potential release of genetically modified micro-organisms has prompted the development of various methods to induce cell death, but these methods often overlook issues regarding the release of DNA into the environment. The stability of DNA, combined with advances in sequencing technologies, means that genetic information is potentially recoverable even after harsh treatments to sterilise equipment. Current systems designed to target DNA are focused on whole genome destruction which renders the host organism unviable.

Brian Caliando and Christopher Voigt have designed a CRISPR-based device, stably integrated into a host bacterium’s genome, which targets user-defined DNA sequences, such as foreign genes carried on plasmids. The device is placed under an inducible control, which facilitates activation at specific times or under specific conditions. The system efficiently targets and destroys the intended DNA sequence while imposing no appreciable burden on host growth or metabolism.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms7989

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