Journal Article

An assessment of the risks associated with the use of antibiotic resistance genes in genetically modified plants: report of the Working Party of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy

P. M. Bennett, C. T. Livesey, D. Nathwani, D. S. Reeves, J. R. Saunders and R. Wise

in Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy

Published on behalf of British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy

Volume 53, issue 3, pages 418-431
Published in print March 2004 | ISSN: 0305-7453
Published online March 2004 | e-ISSN: 1460-2091 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jac/dkh087
An assessment of the risks associated with the use of antibiotic resistance genes in genetically modified plants: report of the Working Party of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy

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Development of genetically modified (GM) plants is contentious, in part because bacterial antibiotic resistance (AR) genes are used in their construction and often become part of the plant genome. This arouses concern that cultivation of GM plants might provide a reservoir of AR genes that could power the evolution of new drug-resistant bacteria. We have considered bacterial DNA transfer systems (conjugation, transduction and transformation) and mechanisms of recombination (homologous recombination, transposition, site-specific recombination and DNA repair) that together might productively transfer AR genes from GM plants to bacterial cells, but are unable to identify a credible scenario whereby new drug-resistant bacteria would be created. However, we cannot entirely rule out the possibility of rare transfer events that involve novel mechanisms. Hence, we also considered if occasional transfers of AR genes (blaTEM, aph(3), aadA) from GM plants into bacteria would pose a threat to public health. These AR genes are common in many bacteria and each is found on mobile genetic elements that have moved extensively between DNA molecules and bacterial cells. This gene mobility has already severely compromised clinical use of antibiotics to which resistance is conferred. Accordingly, the argument that occasional transfer of these particular resistance genes from GM plants to bacteria would pose an unacceptable risk to human or animal health has little substance. We conclude that the risk of transfer of AR genes from GM plants to bacteria is remote, and that the hazard arising from any such gene transfer is, at worst, slight.

Keywords: Keywords: GM plants, transfer of resistance genes, spread of resistance genes, risk-hazard assessment

Journal Article.  14273 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Oncology ; Critical Care

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