Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Bacterial Spies

Harvard researchers have fashioned Escherichia coli to act as sensors to monitor the gut environment, as they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

Pamela Silver and her colleagues engineered E. coli with a two-part system consisting of what they've dubbed a "trigger element" in which the Cro gene from phage lambda is hooked up to a tetracycline-inducible promoter and a so-called "memory element" from the phage cI/Cro region. They then fed these E. coli to mice.

A portion of the mice was also given anhydrotetracycline. When the researchers examined the feces from the mice, only those given the drug produced the Cro protein.

"This is a really exciting advance," Chris Voigt from MIT's Synthetic Biology Center, tells the New Scientist. "This is the first use of a genetic circuit in a real environment. It is remarkable that they were able to engineer the cells to perform a computational operation — albeit a simple one — in this environment." Voigt was not involved in the study.

Silver adds that other switches, such as ones that detect inflammation, cancer, or toxins, could be developed.

The Scan

ChatGPT Does As Well As Humans Answering Genetics Questions, Study Finds

Researchers in the European Journal of Human Genetics had ChatGPT answer genetics-related questions, finding it was about 68 percent accurate, but sometimes gave different answers to the same question.

Sequencing Analysis Examines Gene Regulatory Networks of Honeybee Soldier, Forager Brains

Researchers in Nature Ecology & Evolution find gene regulatory network differences between soldiers and foragers, suggesting bees can take on either role.

Analysis of Ashkenazi Jewish Cohort Uncovers New Genetic Loci Linked to Alzheimer's Disease

The study in Alzheimer's & Dementia highlighted known genes, but also novel ones with biological ties to Alzheimer's disease.

Tara Pacific Expedition Project Team Finds High Diversity Within Coral Reef Microbiome

In papers appearing in Nature Communications and elsewhere, the team reports on findings from the two-year excursion examining coral reefs.