Antibiotic resistance markers in genetically modified plants: A risk to human health?

Philippe B. Gay, Stephen H. Gillespie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Cotransformation with an antibiotic-resistance marker is often necessary in the process of creating a genetically modified (GM) plant. Concern has been expressed that the release of these markers in GM plants may result in an increase in the rate of antibiotic resistance in human pathogens. For such an event to occur, DNA must not be totally degraded in field conditions, and the antibiotic-resistance marker must encounter potential recipient bacteria and be taken up by them, before being integrated into the bacterial genome, and the genes then expressed. In addition, the new recombinant must overcome the physiological disadvantage of acquisition of a piece of foreign DNA, probably in conditions where the new gene does not provide a selective advantage. We review each of these stages, summarising the investigations that have followed each of these steps. We contrast the potential increase in the antibiotic resistance reservoir created by antibiotic-resistance markers in GM plants with the current situation created by medical antibiotic prescribing. We conclude that, although fragments of DNA large enough to contain an antibiotic-resistance gene may survive in the environment, the barriers to transfer, incorporation, and transmission are so substantial that any contribution to antibiotic resistance made by GM plants must be overwhelmed by the contribution made by antibiotic prescription in clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-646
Number of pages10
JournalLancet Infectious Diseases
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2005


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