|A genetically engineered E.coli. The small white structures are gas vesicles. ANUPAMA LAKSHMANAN/CALTECH
Topics: Biology, Genetics, Research
Scientists at the California Institute of Technology in the US have genetically engineered bacteria capable of sending sonar signals from deep within the human body.
The modified Escherichia coli contain genes from two other species of bacteria, enabling them to grow new internal structures called gas vesicles. The vesicles – used by some water-dwelling microbes to regulate buoyancy – can reflect ultrasound signals beamed in by medicos, revealing their precise location.
The GM E.coli, as reported in the journal Nature, potentially have many uses, including providing a signalling mechanism to allow doctors to determine whether certain drugs or other treatments are reaching optimum locations.
Researchers led by Mikhail Shapiro and Raymond Bourdeau started looking into the potential of bacteria as living soundboards more than six years ago. They were seeking solutions to a key problem in medical diagnosis: the depth and density of the human body is such that light-based imaging techniques are defeated at all but the shallowest insertions.
Ultrasound, they reasoned, is able to penetrate much more deeply. If it could be bounced off target bacteria, then precise locations could be identified and treatments modified in response to the data.
Scientists engineer sound-reflecting bacteria, Andrew Masterson, COSMOS Magazine