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Star Trek Tricoder-Inspired Technology Traces GMOs, Byproducts to Lessen Harm on Ecosystem

Oct 13, 2016 04:10 AM EDT
GMOs that Feed us Kills More than what we think
With the genetically engineered organisms to target pest inhibition, GMOs are now eyed as a potential hazard to other insects and non target species. Enjoying a good production may be the ultimate goal for GMOs but its downsides are now itemized one by one and no one knows the extent of its impacts on other aspects.
(Photo : jill111/Public Domain/Pixabay)

If you are a "Star Trek" fan, or at least knows a bit about this movie, for sure, you'd identify what a tricorder is. Now, instead of a sci-fi gadget, experts have created a tricorder-like technology to halt GMOs' risk to nearby ecosystem.

Researchers from the Rice University have been developing means to track down GMOs and its byproducts that can potentially harm non-target pests as well as disturb ecological balance of nearby environment. For almost five years now, team leader Scott Egan further enhances their tool than can not only detect the genetically engineered plants and animals, but can also quantify them and measure the extent of dispersal.

In a press release on EurekAlert, Egan and his team utilized a light transmission spectrometer (LTS) that works to trace and measure protein that are linked to GMOs. The LTS helps in making the target DNA or antibodies big enough to be detected by assisting in the protein binding.

Currently, the developed LTS will still be subjected to tests on controlled environments. Egan mentioned on a news article that the technology will also be tried out on an outdoor experimental system in Notre Dame and to a hydrodynamics laboratory in Purdue before taking it out for real life field test for verification.

The development of the technology was inspired by the teams seemingly impossible goal on finding the how and where GMOs can hardly hit nature. Egan also cited the Bt-corn as an example on how they picture-out the GMOs potential hazard.

"This genetically modified corn has a gene from bacteria that kills some of the herbivorous insects that attack it. It's a wonderful invention that lets us produce more corn per unit area. But then that corn and the detritus -- the leaves, stems and roots -- get into the creek system. And lo and behold, a very close relative to the herbivores that attack the corn is the caddisfly, which lives within the aquatic system," Egan explains. Once the caddisflies' population abruptly dwindles, it can greatly affect the aquatic ecosystem, and according to Egan's statement, a country in Indiana is now suffering from a widespread distribution of Bt proteins on its aquatic systems.

The research is backed up by funding from the US Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as provided through the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grants. Egan's team is still fine-tuning the technology with their collaborators and sees their LTS as a new interesting intervention that may be used in space science for tracking DNA from meteorites.

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