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Genetically Engineered Bacteria Detect Cancer Cells

Genetically engineered bacteria could pave the way for precise cancer detection and targeted treatments.
Genetically engineered bacteria could pave the way for precise cancer detection and targeted treatments. Credit: Peter Handke / Flickr / Public Domain

A group of scientists from around the world has created a new technology involving genetically engineered bacteria that could aid in finding or even treating cancer in tricky spots such as the colon.

The team has shared their discovery in the journal Science, and they’ve given their method the name CATCH, which stands for cellular assay for targeted, CRISPR-discriminated horizontal gene transfer.

Details of the laboratory tests

In their laboratory tests, researchers worked with a type of tiny living thing called Acinetobacter baylyi. This tiny living thing can naturally take in loose DNA floating around it and add that DNA into its own genetic structure. This helps the tiny organism produce fresh proteins to grow.

Interesting interventions by scientists

Researchers did something interesting. They modified the A. baylyi bacteria to have long pieces of DNA that look like the DNA in human cancer cells. These DNA pieces act like one side of a zipper that attaches to the cancer DNA they catch.

During their experiments, researchers concentrated on a changed KRAS gene, often seen in colorectal tumors. These genetically engineered bacteria further helped in the study.

When an A. baylyi bacterium comes across this changed DNA and adds it to its own genetic code, another gene that can resist antibiotics also switches on. This is how the team confirmed the existence of cancer cells. They put the bacteria on plates with antibiotics, and only the ones with working antibiotic resistance genes managed to grow.

Tumor DNA in the mice

The researchers managed to find tumor DNA in mice that were given colorectal cancer cells in the laboratory. However, the technology isn’t quite ready to be used for real diagnosis just yet.

The group mentioned that they’re still in the process of figuring out what to do next. This includes making the technique work better and seeing how well it does compared to other tests for checking diseases. They also pointed out that the most thrilling part of this kind of healthcare isn’t just finding diseases.

“A laboratory can do that,” mentioned Dan Worthley, one of the writers of the study. Down the road, this method might also find use in focused biological treatment. This means giving treatment to certain body areas depending on the DNA present there.

More about genetically engineered bacteria

In the realm of scientific advancements, genetically engineered bacteria are a remarkable innovation with promising applications. These tiny living entities, modified to execute specific tasks, offer new avenues for disease detection, targeted therapies, and potentially transformative medical interventions.

As research continues and technology advances, the marriage of genetic engineering and bacterial capabilities holds the potential to revolutionize how we diagnose and treat a wide range of ailments, ushering in a new era of precision medicine and healthcare possibilities.

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