I was shocked to read that now we need to be concerned not only with genetically modified organisms that we can see, but code-transgressing organisms that are invisible. Altering Escherichia coli in this way seems very dangerous. E. coli is found in every human intestine and has a proven ability to swap genetic material with unrelated bacteria. The article suggests that code-altered organisms would be more subject to mutation than natural ones are. Mutations have created drug-resistant organisms, and rapid mutations already make it very difficult to fight HIV. It’s easy to see how an “uncoli” could produce an uncontrollable plague, and there is no mention that it was ever done in a biosafety lab. Unlike the bioethicist in the article, I find research with potentially deadly unintentional consequences and poor controls neither “very exciting” nor “fascinating,” but “horrifying.”

John Pollack
Omaha, Neb.

From the Nature Index

Paid Content