Magazine article Science News

Gene Travel: Plasmids around the World

Magazine article Science News

Gene Travel: Plasmids around the World

Article excerpt

Gene travel: Plasmids around the world

Genetic engineers have taken advantage of the processes by which bacteria naturally exchange genes. One concern about the environmental release of genetically engineered bacteria is that any foreign genes that scientists have added to a microorganism might be transferred on mobile pieces of DNA, called plasmids and transposons, to other bacteria in the surroundings, with unforeseen adverse consequences. Studies of hospital patients, for example, reveal that the same plasmid or transposon, carrying a natural gene making the bacteria resistant to an antibiotic, can be found in patients across the United States and in distant nations. Some biologists suggest that the rate of bacterial gene exchange is so great that scientists must simply assume that any gene introduced into one species of bacterium will soon be found in all.

The exchange of genes is not limited to bacteria colonizing the gut of a single animal species. Start B. Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and his colleagues previously demonstrated spread of plasmids from bacteria in chickens to those in people. …

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