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Scientists Equip Bacteria With Custom Chemo-navigational System

Date:
May 14, 2007
Source:
Emory University
Summary:
Using an innovative method to control the movement of Escherichia coli in a chemical environment, scientists have opened the door to powerful new opportunities in drug delivery, environmental cleanup and synthetic biology.
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Researchers patterned out a solution of theophylline in the shape of an S. At the top of the S, they put the cells with the riboswitch (green) and let them migrate along the path. At the bottom of the path, the cells without the riboswitch (red) were put and stayed put.
Credit: Image courtesy of Dr. Justin Gallivan, Emory University

Using an innovative method to control the movement of Escherichia coli in a chemical environment, Emory University scientists have opened the door to powerful new opportunities in drug delivery, environmental cleanup and synthetic biology.

Justin Gallivan, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry, and graduate student Shana Topp successfully reprogrammed E. coli's chemo-navigational system to detect, follow and precisely localize to specific chemical signals. In doing so, the scientists exploited E. coli's natural chemotaxis, a microbe's ability to move toward specific chemicals in its environment.

"Equipping bacteria with a way to degrade pollutants, synthesize and release therapeutics, or transport chemicals with an ability to localize to a specific chemical signal would open new frontiers in environmental cleanup, drug delivery and synthetic biology," says Dr. Gallivan.

The researchers equipped E. coli with a "riboswitch," a segment of RNA that changes shape when bound to certain small target molecules, which can then turn genes on or off. Dr. Gallivan and Topp believe that the riboswitch can be used to equip other types of self-propelled bacteria with "chemo-navigation" systems to move them toward desired targets.

Chemotactic bacteria navigate chemical environments by coupling their information-processing capabilities to powerful, tiny molecular motors that propel the cells forward.

Researchers have long envisioned reprogramming bacteria so that microbes capable of synthesizing an anti-cancer drug, for instance, can be used to target diseased cells while sparing healthy cells of side effects. Likewise, scientists are researching ways to use bacteria to clean up oil spills or remove other pollutants from soil, water and wastewater.

"This new ability to equip motile bacteria with a precise and tunable chemo-navigation system will greatly enhance the impressive arsenal of natural and engineered cell behaviors," says Dr. Gallivan.

These findings are published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and will be published in a future print issue.

The study was supported by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.


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Materials provided by Emory University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


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Emory University. "Scientists Equip Bacteria With Custom Chemo-navigational System." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 May 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070510164033.htm>.
Emory University. (2007, May 14). Scientists Equip Bacteria With Custom Chemo-navigational System. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 28, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070510164033.htm
Emory University. "Scientists Equip Bacteria With Custom Chemo-navigational System." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070510164033.htm (accessed May 28, 2017).

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