For once, E. coli bacteria are being put to good use, possibly as a means to treat other deadly bacteria. (Image Source: NIAID)
The bacterium Escherichia coli, known simply as E. coli, gets a bad rep, and for good reason: It is the primary source of food poisoning. While E. coli has many harmless strains, the ones that cause food poisoning can be quite harmful. Further, some strains of E. coli have been known to cause worse health problems, including pneumonia and urinary tract infections. There is a reason we get all those food recalls. However, scientists are moving to improve E. coli beleaguered reputation: They have developed a way to reprogram E. coli to attack other deadly bacteria, which will prove useful in treating hard to combat infections such as MRSA.
Scientists in Singapore, in a study published by the American Chemical Society's Synthetic Biology periodical, developed a method of changing an E. coli bacterium to attack pathogens of so-called biofilm bacteria. These bacteria are known to be tough to treat because they possess various barriers and sugars that protect them from harm. Furthermore, driving home the reasons to treat these types of bacteria, many of these biofilm bacteria are now heavily resistant to antibiotics, due to antibiotic overuse by the human population.
A diagram explaining the process. (Image Source: ACS)
What the scientists in Singapore did was program E. coli to sniff out a specific bacteria, in this case Pseudomonas aeruginosa, found in hospitals. These new E. coli bacteria then targeted the infectious bacteria, destroyed the biofilm protecting them, and destroyed the infectious pathogens. The process is removing the shell of a car to scrap all the internal parts.
The study, "Reprogramming Microbes to Be Pathogen-Seeking Killers," is being funded in part by the United States Department of Defense, who are seeking new methods to counteract biological weapon attacks, especially now that many bacteria are antibiotic-resistant and could be weaponized to take advantage of that fact. Future studies may lead to a new form of treatment that replaces antibiotics, while attempts to reduce antibiotic use to stem infections continues.