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article imageReprograming E.coli to fight human pathogens

By Tim Sandle     Oct 4, 2013 in Science
A new type of E. coli bacterium has been developed that can even kill off slimy groups of bacteria called biofilms that are responsible for many hard-to-treat infections in people.
Biofilms are congregations of bacteria that secrete slime. They are can cause infections in different parts of the human body, including the lungs. Biofilms can also be transferred into the body through contaminated medical devices. Such infections are difficult to treat because medications are not always successful at penetrating the slime barrier.
To tackle the pathogens in biofilms, researchers have adopted a new tactic. This is to develop a non-pathogenic strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) to act as a ‘magic bullet’.
E.coli is a microorganism commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded animals. Some strains can cause serious food poisoning in humans. Of greatest concern are the types of the bacterium that produce a toxin called Shiga. Shiga toxin can make people very sick, causing symptoms such as hemorrhagic diarrhea (Traveler's diarrhea). For the current research, the developed strain of E. coli is not harmful.
Using genetic engineering, scientists have created an E. coli that, on entry to the site of infection, with gravitate towards pathogens and latch onto them. The developed E. coli contains an antimicrobial peptide which then acts to kill the pathogen.
So far the technique has worked against one type of pathogen (Pseudomonas aeruginosa). The researchers aim to develop other strains of E. coli that are capable to fighting other pathogens.
The research has been published in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology. The paper is titled “Reprogramming Microbes to Be Pathogen-Seeking Killers.”
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