Given that our treatment would involve the incorporation of genetically engineered L. reuteri into the microbiome we acknowledge that some patients might not be comfortable with ingesting live, genetically engineered bacteria.
Thus, we decided to talk to Zack Abbott, co-founder and CEO of ZBiotics, behind the world’s first GMO probiotic that is available for sale to the general public. ZBiotics uses genetically modified B. subtilis to facilitate the breakdown of acetaldehyde in the gut and thus reduce the effects of alcohol consumption . Zbiotics is marketed as a food and is thus FDA-compliant. Moreover, the B. subtilis of Zbiotics will pass through the gut without colonising it - a large difference compared to our bacteria.
Yet, whilst ZBiotics main users are healthy individuals that have no need to alter the gut microbiome, our C. difficile patients’ microbiome will already have been colonised by C. difficile. In fact, current antibiotic treatment of C. difficile infection dramatically alters and kills the gut flora. In contrast, our L. reuteri would target only the pathogenic C. difficile . Thus, our modification of the patient’s microbiome is minimal in comparison to the widely accepted treatment of antibiotics. Moreover,
For some, the very notion of using synthetic biology to engineer organisms is completely unnatural.This was pointed out by Dr Frances Butcher, a medical doctor who now specialises in bioethics and biosecurity. In addition, as shown by our survey, opinions on genetic engineering vary greatly between different age groups. As a result, we engaged with both elderly individuals, in the form of interviews, and young school children via summer schools and talks.
Moreover, Dr Butcher led us to question the idea of including a kill switch within our system. She made it clear that the kill switch must have a scientific objective and “must not be used to solely treat societal anxieties.” In fact, including a kill switch might lead to a negative public perception as it invites people to question the safety and potential risks of our probiotic. As a result of this, we ultimately decided not to incorporate a killswitch into our ProQuorum bacteria and instead rely on the sensitivity of our detection system..