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Engineered Bacteria Report on Gut Health

Bacterial sensors record inflammation levels before being passed in stool.

Mary Bates, Contributor
Friday, July 21, 2017


The gut has a lot to tell us about our health. However, it is difficult to access this information. As an alternative to invasive and costly procedures like colonoscopies, researchers are looking at using live, engineered bacteria to diagnose and treat diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diabetes and more.

A team of researchers recently designed a powerful new bacterial sensor that can record gut inflammation for six months in mice. The study, published May 29 in Nature Biotechnology, addresses some of the challenges associated with living diagnostics and might pave the way for use in human patients.

The researchers used a bacterial strain that is part of the mouse microbiome and tweaked it to be able to detect tetrathionate, a product of inflammation. In essence, the engineered bacteria can take the short-term, transient information from inside the gut and turn it into a signal that can be sensed outside the gut by fecal testing.

This study demonstrates that synthetic bacterial devices can colonize the gut and monitor the course of a disease over an extended period of time. The researchers plan to extend this work to sense a variety of conditions in the gut, and potentially develop engineered therapeutics as well. This technology could offer a less invasive and more specific way to monitor gut function at home.