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Crop Biotech Update

Texas A&M Researchers Engineer Good Bacteria to Aid in Combating Disease

August 25, 2021
Research shows that lab-engineered E. coli could be induced to make gene products to suppress certain traits in a roundworm. Photo Source: Getty Images

Good bacteria help the human body maintain health and well-being. Engineering these good bacteria to alter gene activity gone wrong, either by turning them down or activating them, is a promising approach to improve health and fight diseases. Researchers at Texas A&M University have developed a sophisticated, programmable gene silencing system that might have future therapeutic implications.

The researchers have shown that engineered Escherichia coli bacteria could be induced to make gene products to suppress certain traits in Caenorhabditis elegans, a roundworm that consumes E. coli as food. The researchers also noted that in the future, symbiotic bacteria within the human microbiome could be engineered to sense, record, and deliver therapeutics to improve health and wellbeing.

Bacteria have other shorter circular strands of DNA called plasmids. Plasmids replicate and have fewer genes that make them easier to manipulate with genetic tools. Segments of DNA from other organisms, known as transgenes, can be inserted into bacterial plasmids. The researchers inserted a transgene into E. coli's plasmid that can interfere with genetically engineered C. elegans, which has the ability to glow fluorescently green. They then induced the plasmid to express the green fluorescence-suppressing gene. Lastly, they fed the bacteria to C. elegans and found that only those C. elegans that consumed the E. coli with the transgene stopped glowing green.

For more details, read the article in Texas A&M Engineering.

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