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Are there dangers for scientists working on genetically engineered plants, if so what are they?

Submitted by: Megan Raleigh


Expert response from Qiudeng Que

Ph.D. Group Leader, Crop Transformation and Analysis, Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC.

Friday, 03/23/2018 17:04

Production of genetically engineered plants, aka, plant transformation, is probably one of the safest techniques in a science laboratory. In fact, plant transformation in a lab is safer than most home kitchens. Most genetic modification that takes place these days is done through Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Agrobacterium is a very common soil bacterium (using horizontal gene transfer to cause tumors in plants) and is not a human pathogen. Occasionally, particle bombardment is also used to deliver DNA with a gene gun apparatus that uses pressurized helium gas. The helium gas is stored in a very safe steel cylinder which uses gauges to control air pressure and flow. After DNA is delivered to the plant’s tissues, using either Agrobacterium or gene gun, these plant tissues are cultured in sterile nutrition media to regenerate transformed cells into plants. These tissue culture steps are done in a sterile, clean bench in order to avoid any microbial contamination. The chemicals used in the media are simple salts with sugars and a tiny amount of plant growth substances to help the plant cell grow - sometimes also using antibiotics to prevent bacterial contamination. Plant transformation is usually done in a clean air environment. It is not only safe, but very safe. Actually, many scientists enjoy working in plant transformation labs during the spring time when the air is full of pollen, due to many seasonal allergies people get that occur with outside air.