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Lack of detectable DNA uptake by transformation of selected recipients in mono-associated rats

Andrea Wilcks* and Bodil BL Jacobsen

Author Affiliations

Division of Microbiology and Risk Assessment, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Mørkhøj Bygade 19, DK-2860 Søborg, Denmark

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BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:49  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-49

Published: 1 March 2010



An important concern revealed in the public discussion of the use of genetically modified (GM) plants for human consumption, is the potential transfer of DNA from these plants to bacteria present in the gastrointestinal tract. Especially, there is a concern that antibiotic resistance genes used for the construction of GM plants end up in pathogenic bacteria, eventually leading to untreatable disease.


Three different bacterial species (Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, Streptococcus gordonii), all natural inhabitants of the food and intestinal tract environment were used as recipients for uptake of DNA. As source of DNA both plasmid and genomic DNA from GM plants were used in in vitro and in vivo transformation studies. Mono-associated rats, creating a worst-case scenario, did not give rise to any detectable transfer of DNA.


Although we were unable to detect any transformation events in our experiment, it cannot be ruled out that this could happen in the GI tract. However, since several steps are required before expression of plant-derived DNA in intestinal bacteria, we believe this is unlikely, and antibiotic resistance development in this environment is more in danger by the massive use of antibiotics than the consumption of GM food harbouring antibiotic resistance genes.