Chemical engineers develop biosecurity tool to detect genetically engineered organisms in the wild

phys.org | 1/26/2015 | Staff
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If a genetically or synthetically engineered organism is released into the environment, how will we know? How can we tell it apart from the millions of microorganisms that exist naturally in the wild? That's the challenge being taken on by a multi-institution research team, including Eric Young, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), that is developing a biosecurity tool that can detect engineered microorganisms based on their unique DNA signatures.

Genetic engineering, in which genes are added to the genomes of organisms, and synthetic biology, which focuses on understanding and designing better DNA sequences, are both used today to make a wide array of products, such as pharmaceuticals, like insulin, and agricultural crops. Genetic engineering also is used by biotechnology companies—from start-ups to multinational corporations—to manufacture products like detergents, food ingredients, and biofuels.

Decades - US - Government - Research - Development

For decades, the U.S. government has sponsored research on and development of engineered organisms and better ways to design DNA, while the government and the synthetic biology community have worked together to develop safety and ethical practices to ensure the organisms that are made are safe and can be contained. For example, the government has sponsored the development of "kill switches" that make it impossible for engineered organisms to survive outside the lab.

Recently, the U.S. government and research scientists have identified a need for new tools that can identify engineered organisms when they are mixed in with a myriad of naturally occurring microorganisms. These tools could eventually be deployed to detect engineered organisms in the environment. They could be used to protect a company's intellectual property should an organism it designed accidentally escape the lab or to detect intentional releases of potentially harmful organisms.

Task - Team - Tool - Project

This is the task being taken on by the multi-institutional team charged with developing such a tool. The project is funded by...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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