This dude here is the bioengineered bacterium that can hunt down and kill pathogens.
Synthetic biologist Matthew Chang at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has engineered Escherichia coli bacteria and armed it with a system that targets cells of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an invasive bacterium that causes pneumonia and other illnesses.
Chang fed his microscopic mercenaries to mice infected with P. aeruginosa, then collected fecal samples a few hours later. He found that the animals had fewer pathogens than those given ordinary E. coli. and appeared to suffer no ill effects from the treatment. “It’s quite promising,” says Chang.
The researchers inserted genes into E. coli to make a killing peptide called microcin S (MccS) so the E. coli can secrete it, which means that fewer of the modified bacteria are required to treat an infection. The bacterium seeks, detects and attacks Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Chang thinks that the engineered bacteria be used in humans. Most conventional antibiotic treatments kill bacteria indiscriminately, taking out both pathogenic microbes and beneficial bacteria in the gut, for example. Chang’s E. coli offers the possibility of a surgical strike. Chang also suggests that the bacterium could be given to people at high risk of pathogenic infection. The E. coli would lie dormant in the gut, and activate only once its enemy makes an appearance.
“Of course there are regulatory hurdles: these are genetically modified organisms,” says Chang. “But eventually, if we can demonstrate that it is safe and effective, I really envision that this could be used in humans.”
Other researchers have been working on similar systems. Maybe in the near future, we can have engineered bacteria to fight with all kinds of diseases.