Use of genetically modified viruses and genetically engineered virus-vector vaccines: environmental effects

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2006 Nov;69(21):1971-7. doi: 10.1080/15287390600751405.


Despite major therapeutic advances, infectious diseases remain highly problematic. Recent advancements in technology in producing DNA-based vaccines, together with the growing knowledge of the immune system, have provided new insights into the identification of the epitopes needed to target the development of highly targeted vaccines. Genetically modified (GM) viruses and genetically engineered virus-vector vaccines possess significant unpredictability and a number of inherent harmful potential hazards. For all these vaccines, safety assessment concerning unintended and unwanted side effects with regard to targeted vaccinees has always been the main focus. Important questions concerning effects on nontargeted individuals within the same species or other species remain unknown. Horizontal transfer of genes, though lacking supportive experimental or epidemiological investigations, is well established. New hybrid virus progenies resulting from genetic recombination between genetically engineered vaccine viruses and their naturally occurring relatives may possess totally unpredictable characteristics with regard to host preferences and disease-causing potentials. Furthermore, when genetically modified or engineered virus particles break down in the environment, their nuclei acids are released. Appropriate risk management is the key to minimizing any potential risks to humans and environment resulting from the use of these GM vaccines. There is inadequate knowledge to define either the probability of unintended events or the consequences of genetic modifications. The objective of this article is to highlight the limitations in environmental risk assessment and raise awareness of the potential risks involving the use of genetically modified viruses and genetically engineered virus-vector vaccines.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genetic Engineering* / adverse effects
  • Genetic Vectors / adverse effects
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics*
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment
  • Vaccines, DNA / adverse effects
  • Vaccines, DNA / genetics*
  • Viral Vaccines / adverse effects
  • Viral Vaccines / genetics*


  • Vaccines, DNA
  • Viral Vaccines