Fighting E. Coli With GMOs?
Anyone who’s ever had an E. coli infection won’t forget it quickly. Last May, 16 people became sick from E. coli linked to clover sprouts. Another outbreak at the same time had 12 people sick from ground beef, and last year 33 people fell ill from ready-made salad mix. And that’s just to name a few.
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is the one most commonly heard about in the news in association with foodborne outbreaks. According to CDC.gov, an estimated 265,000 STEC infections occur each year in the United States, and sources say the food industry has spent billions to combat the problem.
So how would we start fighting E. coli with GMOs?
Scientists have discovered a way to grow crops with an antimicrobial protein that can be extracted to fight E. coli outbreaks, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The technology relies on colicins, a type of protein produced by E. coli to attack other E. coli strains.
“E. coli have to fight for nutrients with other bacteria,” explains one of the study’s authors, Chad Stahl, chair of the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences at the University of Maryland. “Colicins are their form of chemical warfare.”
The researchers engineered a bacterium containing genes that code for colicin production. They then inserted this bacterium into tobacco, spinach, and beets. The plants incorporated the genes and began producing colicins themselves. Extracting these plant colicins and spraying the purified mixture on contaminated meat leads to significant decreases in E. coli, in as little as an hour.
Not surprisingly, there are reservations regarding these GMOs.
Todd Callaway, a microbiologist at the U.S. Agriculture Department, notes that despite the technology’s promise, further tests are needed. “Safety and efficacy are critical for approval before anything enters the food chain.”
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Original article by Natalie Jacewicz