The stability and degradation of dietary DNA in the gastrointestinal tract of mammals: implications for horizontal gene transfer and the biosafety of GMOs

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2012;52(2):142-61. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2010.499480.


The fate of dietary DNA in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of animals has gained renewed interest after the commercial introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMO). Among the concerns regarding GM food, are the possible consequences of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of recombinant dietary DNA to bacteria or animal cells. The exposure of the GIT to dietary DNA is related to the extent of food processing, food composition, and to the level of intake. Animal feeding studies have demonstrated that a minor amount of fragmented dietary DNA may resist the digestive process. Mammals have been shown to take up dietary DNA from the GIT, but stable integration and expression of internalized DNA has not been demonstrated. Despite the ability of several bacterial species to acquire external DNA by natural transformation, in vivo transfer of dietary DNA to bacteria in the intestine has not been detected in the few experimental studies conducted so far. However, major methodological limitations and knowledge gaps of the mechanistic aspects of HGT calls for methodological improvements and further studies to understand the fate of various types of dietary DNA in the GIT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • DNA / genetics*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Digestion / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiology*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / physiology
  • Humans
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics*
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / metabolism*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Transduction, Genetic / methods


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA