Biological safety concepts of genetically modified live bacterial vaccines

Frey, Joachim (2007). Biological safety concepts of genetically modified live bacterial vaccines. Vaccine, 25(30), pp. 5598-605. Amsterdam: Elsevier 10.1016/j.vaccine.2006.11.058

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Live vaccines possess the advantage of having access to induce cell-mediated and antibody-mediated immunity; thus in certain cases they are able to prevent infection, and not only disease. Furthermore, live vaccines, particularly bacterial live vaccines, are relatively cheap to produce and easy to apply. Hence they are suitable to immunize large communities or herds. The induction of both cell-mediated immunity as well as antibody-mediated immunity, which is particularly beneficial in inducing mucosal immune responses, is obtained by the vaccine-strain's ability to colonize and multiply in the host without causing disease. For this reason, live vaccines require attenuation of virulence of the bacterium to which immunity must be induced. Traditionally attenuation was achieved simply by multiple passages of the microorganism on growth medium, in animals, eggs or cell cultures or by chemical or physical mutagenesis, which resulted in random mutations that lead to attenuation. In contrast, novel molecular methods enable the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) targeted to specific genes that are particularly suited to induce attenuation or to reduce undesirable effects in the tissue in which the vaccine strains can multiply and survive. Since live vaccine strains (attenuated by natural selection or genetic engineering) are potentially released into the environment by the vaccinees, safety issues concerning the medical as well as environmental aspects must be considered. These involve (i) changes in cell, tissue and host tropism, (ii) virulence of the carrier through the incorporation of foreign genes, (iii) reversion to virulence by acquisition of complementation genes, (iv) exchange of genetic information with other vaccine or wild-type strains of the carrier organism and (v) spread of undesired genes such as antibiotic resistance genes. Before live vaccines are applied, the safety issues must be thoroughly evaluated case-by-case. Safety assessment includes knowledge of the precise function and genetic location of the genes to be mutated, their genetic stability, potential reversion mechanisms, possible recombination events with dormant genes, gene transfer to other organisms as well as gene acquisition from other organisms by phage transduction, transposition or plasmid transfer and cis- or trans-complementation. For this, GMOs that are constructed with modern techniques of genetic engineering display a significant advantage over random mutagenesis derived live organisms. The selection of suitable GMO candidate strains can be made under in vitro conditions using basic knowledge on molecular mechanisms of pathogenicity of the corresponding bacterial species rather than by in vivo testing of large numbers of random mutants. This leads to a more targeted safety testing on volunteers and to a reduction in the use of animal experimentation.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathobiology (DIP) > Institute of Veterinary Bacteriology

UniBE Contributor:

Frey, Joachim








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Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:53

Last Modified:

18 Nov 2020 10:21

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URI: (FactScience: 34869)

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