Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could be useful allies in the fight against critical environmental problems. Perhaps because the use of GMOs is currently strictly regulated. A team of students from Leiden are now trying to make these GMOs safer with the help of an ingenious lock.
What if we could modify small organisms so that they gorged themselves on CO2? Or extract nitrogen from the air and turn it into fertilizer? This would make these organizations intelligent allies in the nitrogen crisis or in the fight against climate change.
The potential of this type of genetically modified organism (GMO) has not been fully exploited, says the Leiden team participating in this year’s iGEM student competition. The danger of genetic modification is that the organisms could enter nature and supplant the organisms there. To avoid this, GMOs are only allowed under strict conditions.
The Leiden student team wants to change this and therefore have developed a ‘lock’ that will make the use of GMOs safer. They are producing their Double Plasmid Lock (DOPL LOCK for short) for the international iGEM biology competition. They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to further develop this innovation.
“Our idea is to divide the artificial genetic material of a GMO between two separate pieces of circular DNA, also called plasmids”, explains Iris Noordermeer, who is preparing a master’s degree in molecular genetics and biotechnology. “We give each plasmid its own toxin. By equipping each plasmid with the antitoxin of the other, we make sure that the cell only stays alive if the plasmids are together. This means that an individual plasmid cannot be transferred to another bacterium. ‘
This lock should therefore make it impossible for GMOs to enter nature. The plasmids are held captive in a tight embrace, Noordermeer explains. “That’s why we also call our double security system a Romeo and Juliet model: one plasmid cannot survive without the other. “
Last year a team of students from Leiden won the iGEM competition with their test kit for infectious diseases, a fantastic achievement. This year’s entry may not be as spectacular, but it’s just as important, says Chanel Naar, who is doing a master’s in biomedical science. “Our lock might not be a sexy topic that will result in a publication in Nature. But it is nonetheless essential because it will allow other researchers to safely use the genetic modifications, which will open up many interesting applications. ‘
Support the project!
Help students develop DOPL LOCK and pave the way for using GMOs to solve global problems. Your donation will allow the student team to buy more lab equipment and perform more tests. Extensive testing and optimization will increase their chances of developing a safe system. Together, we can help advance science and give the world a secure future!