An artist's concept of genetically engineered E. coli bacteria

recent study conducted by MIT and the University of California, San Diego utilized engineered Escherichia coli bacteria (harmless strain) to colonize metastasizing tumors in mice. This cohort of mice were given the bacteria orally and once inside their bodies, the bacteria fed off of and gained energy from the dying cells inside the necrotic core of tumors. At the same time this process was occurring, the researchers injected a sugar solution containing a molecule called luciferin, a protein that causes the glow in fireflies. The E.coli was engineered specifically to produce an enzyme that would cause it to split the galactose sugar from luciferin. Then the luciferin would filter its way through the body by way of the kidneys and thus be excreted in the urine and changing the color of mice’s urine red in those with metastasizing tumors.

This new method shows amazing promise as the bacteria can be designed to pick up any chemical or biomarker. This type of test could really make a difference in the future, allowing for earlier and easier diagnosis of various diseases/conditions. In particular, there is hope that it could eliminate the need for some invasive biopsies and may greatly enhance the ability to detect minute concentrations of analytes that other tests cannot pick up. Read More

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