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  • Plant genes 'offer safer option for GM crop research'

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Researchers have suggested a new way of genetically modifying crops that they say could reduce a key concern about their safety.

In most genetically modified crops created so far, researchers have inserted not only genes for traits such as insect resistance, but also a bacterial gene for antibiotic resistance. This allows them to confirm in laboratory tests that the inserted genes are present in the crop.

But this practice has raised concerns that the genes for antibiotic resistance, which come from bacteria, could find their way back into disease-causing bacteria, making them antibiotic resistant too. In the case of an infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, this could render conventional treatment with antibiotics ineffective.

Research published in Nature Biotechnology last week, however, shows that a plant gene can be used to confer antibiotic resistance instead, limiting the chances of antibiotic resistance spreading to wild bacteria.

The researchers say that how the plant gene does this is not yet clear, but preliminary tests have shown that inserting the plant antibiotic resistance gene into the bacterium E. coli does not make the bacterium resistant to the antibiotic.

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