Document Type



bioethics, biotechnology, genetic engineering, microorganisms


Numerous opportunities exist for the utilization of genetically engineered microorganisms for useful purposes in agriculture and in waste management. An extremely diverse array of microorganisms is likely to be considered for such processes as biological control of plant pests, degradation of to toxic wastes, reclamation of rare metals and other processes. For some purposes, such as in the degradation of toxic materials, it may be possible to make biologically compromised microorganisms that will exist only in the presence of the toxic chemicals that they were designed to transform. A better understanding of the genetics, biology and physiology of microorgansims which is being gamed by biotechnological techniques will allow the development of environmentally "safe" microorganisms which would have a limited duration or dispersal potential in natural environments. Other applications, including many agricultural uses, will require environmentally competent microorganisms that actively grow in association with crop plants, for example. Such organisms cannot safely be assumed to have a limited duration in the environment in which they are released or dispersal restricted only to that localized area of application. Most genetically engineered microorganisms will not represent the introduction of strains with greatly different genetic backgrounds, and thus ecological adaptivities, than already existing microbes. For the foreseeable future, the most likely targets of genetic engineering will be endemic strains to which a unique gene or genes are added or deleted. Predictions of the behavior of such strains reintroduced into environments similar to the original source are simplified because of considerable knowledge of the natural history of the native organism. Comparative behavior of modified compared to natural microbial strains can be approached experimentally in contained conditions and should describe the expected behavior in natural situations.

Publication Date

June 1989

Journal Title

Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science





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© Copyright 1989 by the Iowa Academy of Science, Inc.



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