Scientists equip bacteria with custom chemo-navigational system

May 10, 2007

Using an innovative method to control the movement of Escherichia coli in a chemical environment, Emory University scientists have opened the door to powerful new opportunities in drug delivery, environmental cleanup and synthetic biology. Their findings are published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and will be published in a future print issue.

Justin Gallivan, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry, and graduate student Shana Topp successfully reprogrammed E. coli's chemo-navigational system to detect, follow and precisely localize to specific chemical signals. In doing so, the scientists exploited E. coli's natural chemotaxis, a microbe's ability to move toward specific chemicals in its environment.

"Equipping bacteria with a way to degrade pollutants, synthesize and release therapeutics, or transport chemicals with an ability to localize to a specific chemical signal would open new frontiers in environmental cleanup, drug delivery and synthetic biology," says Dr. Gallivan.

The researchers equipped E. coli with a "riboswitch," a segment of RNA that changes shape when bound to certain small target molecules, which can then turn genes on or off. Dr. Gallivan and Topp believe that the riboswitch can be used to equip other types of self-propelled bacteria with "chemo-navigation" systems to move them toward desired targets.

Chemotactic bacteria navigate chemical environments by coupling their information-processing capabilities to powerful, tiny molecular motors that propel the cells forward.

Researchers have long envisioned reprogramming bacteria so that microbes capable of synthesizing an anti-cancer drug, for instance, can be used to target diseased cells while sparing healthy cells of side effects. Likewise, scientists are researching ways to use bacteria to clean up oil spills or remove other pollutants from soil, water and wastewater.

Source: Emory University

Explore further: Research on how surfaces respond under extreme conditions lead to energy advances

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How bacteria evolve defenses to antibiotics

Oct 13, 2014

High-resolution cryo-electron microscopy has now revealed in unprecedented detail the structural changes in the bacterial ribosome which results in resistance to the antibiotic erythromycin.

The remarkable simplicity of complexity

Oct 01, 2014

From the fractal patterns of snowflakes to cellular lifeforms, our universe is full of complex phenomena – but how does this complexity arise?

Recommended for you

Towards controlled dislocations

22 hours ago

Crystallographic defects or irregularities (known as dislocations) are often found within crystalline materials. Two main types of dislocation exist: edge and screw type. However, dislocations found in real ...

Chemists tackle battery overcharge problem

Oct 17, 2014

Research from the University of Kentucky Department of Chemistry will help batteries resist overcharging, improving the safety of electronics from cell phones to airplanes.

User comments : 0