Wow of the week: With a little bioengineering, E. coli becomes a pathogen-fighting superhero

8:00 am by | 4 Comments

E. coliScientists in Singapore think there might be a way to fight microorganisms that cause infection with, well, other microorganisms that cause infection.

Synthetic biologist Matthew Chang and his colleagues at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore bioengineered E. coli bacteria in a way that causes them to hunt down and kill the gram negative bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It’s a frequent cause of hospital-acquired infections like pneumonia and bloodstream infections.

In a paper published in the latest issue of ACS Synthetic Biology, the group fed their pumped-up E. coli to mice infected with P. aeruginosa and, a few hours later, found fewer pathogens in their feces.

According to an article in Nature this week, Chang sees potential for eventual use in humans as a preventative measure for people at risk of infection. The E. coli would remain dormant in the gut, only to be activated by the presence of P. aeruginosa.


Here’s how it works. The scientists inserted genes into E. coli that would make it secrete a killing peptide called microcin S. Then they loaded it with genes that make a nuclease that can slice through to protective film that envelops colonies of the bacteria. Finally, they programmed the E. coli so that it’s activated by the presence of a certain P. aeruginosa messenger molecule.

While similar methods have been studied and developed in the past, University of Maryland synthetic biologist Wiliam Bentley is quoted by Nature as saying that this approach is “really innovative” and unique in that no one has ever put all of these mechanisms together.

[Image credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH]

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Deanna Pogorelc

By Deanna Pogorelc MedCity News

Deanna Pogorelc is a Cleveland-based reporter who writes obsessively about life science startups across the country, looking to technology transfer offices, startup incubators and investment funds to see what’s next in healthcare. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University and previously covered business and education for a northeast Indiana newspaper.
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Hmmm this is very interesting. But it doesnt necessarily means that it will work on humans especially that our immune system is very aggressive. Once it enters the body itll stands no chance yet alone laying dormant.. The E.coli in our gut is not beong attack because its part of our natural flora on that part of the body. But just like any other organism theyre opportunistics. Besides, thats not the only concern how about the possibility of mutations? Hmm... But this might only helps those who are immunodeficient if it puts at the right place.


While this study is fascinating and innovative, based on the information provided, it's practical use in the treatment of infections seems limited. I don't see how E. coli, present in the intestines, could attack and kill P. aeruginosa in various other areas of the body. Furthermore, I would worry about exposing other areas of the body, already immunodeficient, to E. coli, because virulent strains of the bacterium can cause septicemia, gram negative pneumonia, UTIs, peritonitis, etc.

James Harrald
James Harrald

Who says you can't  teach an old bug new tricks :-) James


Hmmmn, well, as long as Al Queda uses this pathogen as Agroterror in US and Europe food supply, I guess they need to think of something to do with it.