Novel method for the study of the population dynamics of a genetically modified microorganism in the gut of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris

Ian S . Thorpe, Ken Killham, James I. Prosser, L. Anne Glover

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A laboratory microcosm study was used to investigate the survival and population dynamics of genetically modified microorganisms (GMM) in the gut of Lumbricus terrestris. Three methods of axenic earthworm production were investigated. An antibiotic mixture of streptomycin and cycloheximide was introduced either passively, mixed with sterile soil or cellulose, or actively, by teflon catheter. Worms treated by all methods lost weight but this was least for the catheter method which was also the only method to produce axenic earthworms. Axenic earthworms were used to determine the effect of competition with indigenous gut bacteria on ingested GMM. The GMM used was Pseudomonas fluorescens, strain 10586/FAC510, with chromosomally inserted Lux genes for bioluminescence, and chromosomal resistance to rifampicin. The bacteria were grown up to the mid-exponential phase before inoculation into earthworms. Bacteria in faecal material were enumerated by dilution plate counting using selective agar. The GMM were re-isolated from the casts of both antibiotic-treated and untreated earthworms. Lower concentrations of GMM and higher concentrations of indigenous bacteria in the casts of untreated compared to antibiotic-treated earthworms suggested that competition is a fundamental control on population dynamics of the introduced bacterial inocula ingested by earthworms.

The catheter method, developed in this study, is proposed as a technique to contribute to the risk assessment of environmental release of GMM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-59
Number of pages5
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1993


  • genetically modified microorganisms
  • population dynamics
  • earthworm gut
  • Pseudomonas-fluorescens
  • lumbricus-terrestris
  • biological-control
  • bacteria

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