Researchers engineer bacterium to hunt down and kill pathogens

Sep 13, 2013 by Bob Yirka report

A team of researchers in Singapore has developed a technique for bioengineering a bacterium to seek out and kill targeted pathogens. In their paper published in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, the team describes the technique they developed, how it works in mice and the likelihood that a similar technique can be developed for use in humans.

The dream of many health care researchers is the development of universal targeted therapies that can be administered to people suffering from virtually any ailment—the perfect vaccine or drug that can kill invading bacteria while leaving healthy tissue and even other bacteria alone. This new effort by the team in Singapore suggests scientists might be catching up with fantasy—they've developed a technique for bioengineering one type of bacteria to seek out and kill another.

In their lab, the researchers programmed an Escherichia coli bacterium to find and kill Pseudomonas aeruginosa—a type of bacteria that can cause pneumonia and other ailments. They started by inserting genes into a single E. coli that cause the bacterium to create a peptide called microcin S—a known bacteria killer. Next they loaded up the bacterium with genes to cause the generation of a nuclease that is capable of cutting its way through the that bacteria create to stave off penetration by . As part of the bioengineering, the team also caused the programmed E. coli to withhold its killing abilities until it made its way to the target and also gave it an ability to detect the specific target. Once found, the engineered bacterium sticks to the target, generates microcin S and kills it.

In testing their programmed bacterium in mice (by examining before and after application), the researchers found fewer P. aeruginosa and unchanged numbers of healthy . They also report no other symptoms or side effects. Because of this, the researchers suggest their technique appears to be both safe and effective—they hope to adapt it for use in humans to help combat a wide variety of bacterial infections. In the meantime, they are working to improve the engineering process to help the better cut through biofilms.

Explore further: Tarantula toxin is used to report on electrical activity in live cells

More information: ACS Synth. Biol., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/sb400077j

Related Stories

Researchers modify harmless bacteria to kill harmful bacteria

Aug 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers in Singapore have modified the DNA of one type of bacterium, Escherichia coli, to first sense the presence of another bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and then to explode, releasing a special kin ...

Bacteria in drinking water are key to keeping it clean

Aug 14, 2013

Research at the University of Sheffield, published in the latest issue of Water Science and Technology: Water Supply, points the way to more sophisticated and targeted methods of ensuring our drinking water remains safe t ...

Recommended for you

Reading a biological clock in the dark

5 hours ago

Our species' waking and sleeping cycles – shaped in millions of years of evolution – have been turned upside down within a single century with the advent of electric lighting and airplanes. As a result, ...

Scientists see how plants optimize their repair

Oct 20, 2014

Researchers led by a Washington State University biologist have found the optimal mechanism by which plants heal the botanical equivalent of a bad sunburn. Their work, published in the Proceedings of the Na ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Humpty
1 / 5 (5) Sep 13, 2013
Good one genius - just wait till this gets out of the test tube and then all hell will break loose.

http://www.global.../5337283

Urgelt
1 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2013
I didn't hear any mention of including a self-destruct mechanism limiting the engineered bacterium's survival. Which means that the engineered bacterium is free to compete for and adapt to other ecosystem niches.

I'd say there's a way to go before this is ready for prime time.