In Texas, Rice University scientists are leading an effort to detect genetically modified organisms in the environment. The researchers are building tools to detect, quantify and track the dispersal of genetically engineered crops and animals and their byproducts with consecutive grants totaling about $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Inspired by Star Trek’s tricorder, the team developed and tested a portable light transmission spectrometer to find signs of genetically modified DNA in the wild. The tool will allow researchers to sample water from the environment and analyze it for the presence of DNA or proteins from organisms that have been engineered for specific purposes but may have unintended consequences.
In the future, research lead Scott Egan said LTS technology may be of interest to space scientists who look for the origins of life. “We should be grinding into the center of meteorites and trying to detect very low concentrations of DNA,” he said.