Monitoring dispersal of genetically engineered organisms and their byproducts using LTS
- Funded By: USDA
- ECI Investigators: Jeff Feder, David Lodge, Jennifer Tank, Carol Tanner, Steve Ruggiero & Don Howard
- Partners: Advanced Diagnostics & Therapeutics, Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, RIce University
Researchers are developing a new technology for tracking the movement of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and their byproducts in the environment. Since the expansion of genetic engineering in the 1970s, there has been strong disagreement about the consequences of GE organisms and material entering the environment. To help address the lack of understanding in these areas, the team tackles two of the most pressing needs in GE detection: the detection and monitoring of the potential dispersal of GE fish and the byproducts of GE maize.
A multidisciplinary team, which includes evolutionary biologists, ecologists, physicists, and biogeochemists, adapts current light transmission spectroscopy (LTS) technologies developed at Notre Dame. The technologies have the ability to identify and accurately measure in real-time the size, shape and number of nanoparticles suspended in fluid at higher sensitivity and with greater size resolution than competing technologies. To detect genetically engineered fish dispersal, researchers combine LTS with another developing technology, environmental DNA (eDNA), which measures the genetic fingerprint of species in the aquatic environment. Methods that target eDNA can be used as an important surveillance tool that recognizes a unique advantage of aquatic environmental sampling. LTS works by measuring shifts in the size of small, activated beads of a known size that are functionalized with species-specific genetic tag. Beads in solution increase in size when DNA from the target organism binds to the tags, and this diameter growth is detected by LTS. The beads can also be activated with antibodies, to detect other potential environmental contaminants.
The LTS technology exhibits the potential to be a field-ready device that can generate rapid and highly accurate detection results, even when a target is at low densities. Research impacts extend to many different audiences, including farmers, natural resource managers, persons interested in biotechnology, as well as government officials involved with GMOs.