Genetically Modified Bacteria Could Change Future Drug Treatments

We learned throughout the last few years that our human bodies are not self-sufficient, as we once thought. Various types of bacteria and other microorganisms make up our many of our different systems, especially the intestines. Genetically modified bacteria strains of E. Coli and Listeria have previously been used in clinical studies to distribute medicine to treat obesity and illnesses, such as cancer, but they are cleared from the body at such a rapid rate. Scientists are hoping that this new modified strain of a bacterium already found in the gut might naturally last longer and be of more use as a therapeutic treatment to fight off and prevent certain diseases.

Genetically Modified Bacteria

Biologists at the Institute of Technology in Massachusetts, led by Timothy K Lu and Christopher Voigt, have genetically modified a version of Bacteroides Thetaiotaomicron, a type of bacteria found in the gut. This genetically modified bacteria is said to be able to sense its environment and fight off diseases. The success of this new study on mice gives scientists hope that they can yield the same results in humans eventually. This could lead to a greater ability to fight off diseases like colon cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.

Working Out the Kinks

As with every new study, there are still many factors that will need to be considered and kinks worked out before applying tests to human subjects. Researchers are still gathering data, and are working on proving that the genetically modified bacteria can be created with more complex behaviors, like being able to respond to multiple sensory commands. The MIT team would also like to be able to create a “signal” that would keep the genetically modified bacteria from producing too much of a specific gene, which in turn could be harmful to a person.

Future Plans For the Bacteria

Biologist and senior author on the study, Timothy Lu, said, “The big picture is that the bacteria that live in us or on us impact human health in very significant ways and the existing techniques we have to modulate the microbiome – taking antibiotics or changing our diet – are relatively limited,” Lu said. The success of these studies could not only lead to a greater understanding of the way our bodies interact with the microorganisms living in it, but could also lead to a whole new perspective on medicine and treating illnesses that were far less treatable before now.


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