Harvard geneticists have created an E. coli bacterium that requires an additional amino acid, one made in the lab and not found in nature, by rewriting the bacteria's genetic language to add a "word" that calls for this unnatural amino acid. That means they can't easily swap genes, which bacteria often do to pick up or get rid of traits. And it also means that these modified E. coli must be fed the synthetic amino acid to survive.
I have spent 20 years talking about the need for measures like this, as we embark on three dangerous-but-productive fields… synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. In all three realms, this kind of simple precaution may help someday to stave off a disaster.
Indeed, I believe there should be legislation subsidizing the development to such man-made “bottleneck ingredients” and requiring their use in exchange for federal grants. Nanotech that needs a particular, right-handed protein, can be just as profitable — the protein could be supplied by a variety of profitable factories — but it can be stopped from spreading by simply stopping shipments, if things go badly.
Evolution can be expected! So these precautions should be layered, several-deep.http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/01/21/378820888/scientists-give-genetically-modified-organisms-a-safety-switch