Because of the bad rap bacteria have traditionally received in the mainstream media, particularly in the wake of the recent spinach E. coli outbreaks, it is easy to forget the beneficial roles they perform in vital functions such as the recycling of dead plant and animal material and the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis in the oceans. Now two scientists from Emory University, assistant professor of chemistry Justin Gallivan and graduate student Shana Topp, have discovered a way of harnessing the utility of Escherichia coli bacteria by controlling their movement through a chemo-navigational system.
Chemotactic bacteria like E. coli are able to navigate their chemical environment by combining elaborate information processing capabilities with molecular motors that power their forward motion. Gallivan and Topp used a synthetic "riboswitch," a section of RNA that changes shape when bound to certain small molecules, to turn specific genes on or off, allowing them to reprogram the bacteria's navigational system to guide them toward and precisely localize them to new chemical signals. These chemical signals could potentially include pollutants from waste and soil or diseased cells.
Equipping bacteria with a way to degrade pollutants, synthesize and release therapeutics, or transport chemicals with an ability to localize to a specific chemical signal would open new frontiers in environmental cleanup, drug delivery and synthetic biology," says Dr. Gallivan. "This new ability to equip motile bacteria with a precise and tunable chemo-navigation system will greatly enhance the impressive arsenal of natural and engineered cell behaviors.
Via ::Scientists equip bacteria with custom chemo-navigational system, ::BioPetroClean: Bacteria That Lick Up Crude Oil, ::The Pollution Eating & Power Generating Bacteria, ::Oil-eating bacteria to clean up skills and, for those interested in the original paper, ::Guiding Bacteria with Small Molecules and RNA