Details matter for contaminants in genetic-engineering kits

We wish to clarify some points related to our reporting of facultative pathogenic bacteria in a commercially available genetic-engineering kit last year (see Nature 552, 291; 2017).

Enterococcus spp., Klebsiella pneumoniae and Enterobacter spp. are among the ten microbes most frequently associated with infections in the acute-care wards of European hospitals. For users of the contaminated kits, the risk of infection through broken skin or mucosal contact was considered ‘low’ by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) — not ‘very low’, as you wrote. These bacteria were multidrug-resistant and so needed special measures for safe handling.

Regarding your implication that the Bavarian authorities withheld data on the kits, we informed all key people involved, as well as relevant institutions such as the World Health Organization and the ECDC, about the methods and outcome of our analyses. However, the official results were not made publicly available.

We stress that the regulatory status of biological agents in Germany is unambiguous. In this case, the bacteria were classified as pathogens under the German Protection Against Infection Act and so their import, export, storage and handling needed official permission. The German Genetic Engineering Act allows genetic engineering operations only in approved installations.

Nature 555, 587 (2018)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-03796-z

Competing Interests

The laboratory of U.B. at the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority (LGL) first reported the finding of facultative pathogenic bacteria in a commercially available DIY genetic-engineering kit.


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