An article published July 2011(1) in “La Libre Belgique”, a Belgian newspaper, mentioned a study conducted by the Crioc (Center for research and information of the consumers), which showed consumers were still confused when facing the question of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). It concluded that with years passing by, people were less resistant to the idea of consuming GMO’s.
GMO’s are like abortion or death penalty: everybody heard about all three at least once in his life, everybody has an opinion about it, but no one really knows what’s going on with it. What do we really know about these GMO’s? Every time we hear news talking about them, it concerns a demonstration against it, a scandal or fatal effects caused by it. For example, a farmer explains that several of his cows were found dead after they had been fed by GMO’s(2). He tried to draw the authorities attention to the danger of GMO’s, but after investigations the main cause of death was never identified. Starlink corn has also been much discussed, indeed, this case concern human food (3). It appears some corn Starlink based food causes vomiting, diarrhea and rash. Big quantities could give allergies; but, in this example, just like the precedent, the cause of allergies was not proved. In the food, scientists measured a percentage of GMO’s too small to cause these effects. There are a lot of associations against GMO’s that have been created. On Internet, there are plenty of websites that mention all the supposed harmful effects. And there are few defender of this cause, but nevertheless, there are always more and more fields cultivated by GMO’s.
However, we are mostly interested by the non-food application of the development of GMO. Genetic engineering touch several domains such as fundamental research (developmental genes, evolution, genomes sequencing and cartography, …), the medical field (insulin, growth hormones, vaccines anti-hepatitis B, … Current research: xenograft, gene therapy, …), industrial applications and food (4).When we ask people about medical applications of modified genes, they mention no objections. Maybe because, when human lives are at stake, we are more open to GMO.
In our project, an antibiotic resistance was inserted with the gene as a selection marker in the bacteria; it is the usual way to check that the gene was correctly inserted. And this antibiotic resistance caused a lot of problems in the past. It appeared that, after a few years of use of this sort of GMO, it could have negative effects on human health and on the environment. Some people who ate this corn were sick and cultivating it could contaminate the ground with the resistance to antibiotic by horizontal transfer. The problem with genes of resistance to antibiotics is that people made an amalgam between those genes and GMO and that’s one of the reason GMO’s have a bad reputation today. So now, we would like to reassure people about the fact that those genes can be removed from an organism. After we inserted the gene in the bacteria, we can remove this antibiotic resistance. In this way, the bacteria can easily be destroyed by antibiotics if we lose control of its proliferation or if it extends over in the environment.
So, more than building a tool, our baby pINDEL, can help scientists to work easily and safely, we took the time to ask ourselves how we could protect the population and environment. We decided to remove the selection gene to avoid all the complications that happened before (as ground contamination, …). We can say that what we do is “clean biology” because without this antibiotic resistance gene, scientists can study bacteria or manipulate one gene without any impact on neighboring (for the antibiotic resistance problem not for mutations of the GMO).