A university research facility in Adelaide has been closed temporarily after a researcher cross-bred genetically modified mice without approval.
The researcher was suspended after Flinders University’s biosafety committee detected experiments that did not comply with university procedures.
The research project, which could not be described by the university due to ongoing investigations, was also indefinitely put on hold.
Flinders University health sciences faculty executive dean Roy Goldie said the university was cooperating fully with the Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and looked forward to resolving the matter as soon as possible.
“I am extremely disappointed that a staff member has not complied with the strict code of conduct for research procedures,” Goldie said.
“However, I am very pleased that the university … detected the non-compliance and we were able to act quickly.”
Goldie said the genetically modified mice in question had been quarantined.
“There is no risk to the health of the public or Flinders staff,” he said.
The use of genetically modified mice for medical research applies the same principle as the development of genetically modified food where a gene may be taken out or added to result in a crop that might be more resistant to drought or insects.
Under the current federal government Gene Technology Act cross-breeding is allowed, but must be given prior approval based on potential risk to the environment via a hierarchy of decision makers.
Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps said he wanted to see the office get tough on non-compliant behaviour.
“It’s radical, novel technology that has inherent dangers which need to be contained in laboratories,” he said.
The independent Melbourne-based ethicist said the closure was not a unique case.
“In 1990 more than 50 genetically modified pigs were released from Adelaide University into the human food supply for consumption without anyone being advised,” Phelps said.
“Last year there were 25 unauthorised events in laboratories around Australia.
“More independent local surveillance and community participation is needed so people know what research is being done in their vicinity.”
A team of auditors from OGTR is expected to review the non-compliance at Flinders University in the near future.