A group of German scientists has provoked a storm of criticism following the publication of their work in which they reengineered bacterium to cause disease in a species that had previously been unaffected by it. On the plus side, observers agreed that the work signaled a serious advance in protein biophysics, advancing our understanding of the ways that proteins act on an atomic scale. Wolf-Dieter Schubert and Andreas Lengeling understood that a difference in proteins protected mice against Listeria, which commonly infects human intestinal tracts. By changing two of the proteins amino acids, they were able to make the mice vulnerable to listeriosis. The problem, say critics, is that the publication of the research in the journal Cell creates a new biosecurity threat, possibly opening the way for rogue scientists to create a new method to attack people with diseases that they had been immune to.
"What this really points out is the difficulty of dealing with all these issues," Claire Fraser-Liggett, director of the Institute of Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told The Washington Post.
- check out the report on the research program from The Washington Post