Lab-Made Genes Appear in Rivers
From lab to river? A new study suggests lab-made antibiotic resistance genes may have made their way into the environment.
CREDIT: attem | Shutterstock.com
A new study has found evidence that antibiotic-resistant genes have escaped biology labs into the environment. A team of Chinese scientists found the man-made genes in all six Chinese rivers they tested, Chemical & Engineering News reported.
Their study is the first evidence that lab-made packages of genes, called genetic constructs, have entered the environment, Justin Donato, a biochemist at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, told Chemical & Engineering News. More studies are needed to confirm that the genetic constructs the Chinese scientists found actually came from the rivers they sampled, Donato added. Another way the research team could have found constructs in their river water is if constructs they stored in another part of their lab, for other experiments, accidentally contaminated their river samples after researchers brought the samples indoors.
The Chinese study's results mean that a common research technique may contribute to antibiotic resistance in human illnesses, the study authors wrote in a paper they published Dec. 6 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The overuse of antibiotics in hospitals and on farms is already known to create "superbugs" through a kind of accelerated arms race between bacteria and drugs. This is a new way germs may gain super resistance, the Chinese researchers suggest — by sucking up bits of drug-resistant genes that have escaped from labs.
It's unclear whether the risk for this kind of superbug creation is the same in the U.S. as it is in China. In the U.S., scientists who use antibiotic resistance genes in their research blast their lab waste with high heat to kill off any bacteria with the drug-resistant DNA, Chemical & Engineering News reported. Sometimes they incinerate their waste.
Why do so many labs work with antibiotic resistance genes? For many genetic engineering labs, such genes are quality-control tools. They're generally not the focus of studies, and nobody wants to put them in genetically modified crops or other genetically modified products. In fact, most scientists who make genetically modified crops now avoid using drug-resistant genes in their research to prevent such genes from getting out into the world, Chemical & Engineering News reported.
Other types of labs continue to use them, however, because they form a cheap and powerful research tool, the chemists' magazine reported.
Source: Chemical & Engineering News