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MIT Scientists Engineer Bacteria to Control Digestive System

Bacteria in Guts

Scientists at MIT are reporting success in bioengineering memory switches, circuits and sensors that allow control over gut inhabiting bacteria to give our immune system and the digestive system a boost.

Published in the journal Cell Systems, the bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron was upgraded by researchers at MIT led by Timothy Lu and Christopher Voigt with new genetic parts.Following in the roots of bioengineering principles, they were able to control what bacteria memorise, sense and how they respond to other signals in the gut by various genetic changes. The researchers hope that soon they will be able to detect and treat colon cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases or maybe even control weight gain using these bacteria that tend to stay longer in the gut.

This is not the first time that switches and sensors have been created inside bacteria. Earlier researchers reported succeeding in altering Ecoli to change its . However, this is the first time gut bacteria has been selected keeping in mind the fact that they tend to stick around longer in the gut in abundance. The team designed genetic parts that together help program gene expression inside the bacterial gut. These acts as switches responding to external signals, switching genes on and off.

Using tools developed by others such as recombinases and the hugely popular CRISPR, the researchers were able to give bacteria a form of genetic memory and turn genes on and off. They gave bacteria the ability to resist antibacterial molecules that would otherwise kill them and an appetite for a particular nutrient.

The genetically engineered B. thetaiotaomicron in mice guts was shown to be able to memorise what it age and respond. The researcher are looking to identify more of such genetic switches to add to their toolkit and also engineer other gut bacteria that colonise various guts.

Source: MIT News