Antibiotic Resistance

What is antibiotic resistance?

Diseases can become resistant to antibiotics, meaning that antibiotics will no no longer make a patient well.  Antibiotic resistant diseases are one of the largest emerging health threats in the world.

Why are antibiotic resistance genes inserted into gmos?

Successfully inserting a new gene into tissue culture is a rare occurence.  To determine if the insertion was successful, scientists attach an antibiotic resistance marker gene to the gene they wish to insert.  After many attempted insertions, scientists place antibiotics on the tissue cultures.  They know that those that survive contain the antibiotic resistance gene and most likely the gene they wish to see expressed.   This antibiotic resistance gene stays in each cell of the organism throughout its life and often transfers to its offspring.

How might this lead to antibiotic resistant diseases?

There is concern that antibiotic resistance marker genes will confer antibiotic resistance traits onto bacteria through horizontal gene transfer, creating antibiotic resistant diseases.  Horizontal gene transfer is any process in which an organism transfers genetic material to another organism that is not its offspring.  Horizontal gene transfer has already been documented with GMOs.  In a rare human feeding study, the Roundup Ready® gene from a GMO soy trans­ferred to the bacteria found in the gut of humans.1

Lorrin Pang, MD, and MPH Advisor to the World Health Organization echoes those concerns relative to Hawaii’s genetically engineered papaya. “The genetically engineered papaya contains three antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes. I am concerned about the possibility that they might transfer to the human gut bacteria, and then create new disease strains that will be resistant to the three important antibiotics.”

  1. Netherwood, et al, “Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract,” Nature Biotechnology, Vol 22 Number 2 February 2004.