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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

 

Experts in the innovative field of “synthetic biology” engineered a strain of E.coli that could detect signs of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a leading cause of infection that can be fatal to patients with weak immune systems.

Their specially designed bacteria then produced a toxin that is lethal to the bug, before blowing themselves apart like bombs and splattering the substance over the surrounding area.

When added to a culture of P. aeruginosa in lab tests, the artificial E.coli destroyed 99 per cent of its targets and prevented the formation of biofilms - slimy communities of bacteria which are difficult to destroy - by up to 90 per cent.

The method has not been tested in trials on humans or animals, but a study in the journal Molecular Systems Biology indicated it could provide a new approach to tackling drug-resistant infections, where progress using current techniques has ground to a halt.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, write: “In summary, we engineered a novel biological system, which comprises sensing, killing, and lysing devices, that enables E. coli to sense and eradicate pathogenic P. aeruginosa strains by exploiting the synthetic biology framework.”

P. aeruginosa is a bacteria which infects the lungs and digestive system, particularly in patients who are critically ill or have weakened immune systems.

The strains found in hospitals are often resistant to antibiotics, creating a pressing need for new treatments.

The E.coli strain developed by researchers from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore uses a protein called LasR to detect chemical signals given off by P. aeruginosa cells when they communicate with each other.

P. aeruginosa naturally produces a toxin known as pyocin, but the scientists engineered the E.coli to produce the same weapon when the pathogen is detected nearby.

The E.coli bacteria then burst themselves open and cover the P. aeruginosa bacteria with pyocin, which eats away at the outer cell wall and causes the insides to spill out.

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