Natalie Farny, assistant professor in the Department of Biology and Biotechnology, has been awarded a $499,213 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine how natural microbes interact with and influence the survival of genetically engineered microbes in soil.
Farny’s three-year project will develop new laboratory models so that scientists can better predict microbe interactions and determine whether natural soil microbes could be used as “bio-controls” for genetically engineered organisms.
Her project was one of five research initiatives awarded EPA grants recently to assess the health and environmental impact of biotechnology products. It also builds on Farny’s previous research using soil microbes and a genetically engineered version of the bacteria Pseudomonas putida, or P. putida, to detect buried landmines.
“Many genetically engineered organisms have been developed in recent years to detect contaminants in soil, clean up toxins, and control pathogens, but there are questions about how long these organisms survive in nature,” Farny said. “In addition, much remains unknown about soil microbe communities and the role that these complex, multi-species communities play in the survival and persistence of genetically engineered organisms. Better laboratory models will help scientists answer these questions and make better predictions about what happens when engineered organisms are applied to soil.”