Cancer cells
Cancer cells

Scientists genetically engineer bacteria to detect Cancer cells

What To Know

  • A team of international scientists has come up with a new technology that could help spot or even treat cancer Cells in those tricky-to-reach spots, like the colon.
  • For their experiments in the lab, these scientists used a type of bacterium called Acinetobacter baylyi.
  • They made sure these bacteria held onto long stretches of DNA that’s just like the DNA found in human cancer cells.
  • baylyi bacteria grabs the messed up DNA and adds it to its own genes, it also turns on a gene that makes it resistant to antibiotics.

A team of international scientists has come up with a new technology that could help spot or even treat cancer Cells in those tricky-to-reach spots, like the colon. They’ve put out a paper in the journal Science about their method called CATCH, which stands for cellular assay for targeted, CRISPR-discriminated horizontal gene transfer.

For their experiments in the lab, these scientists used a type of bacterium called Acinetobacter baylyi. This bacterium has a cool ability: it can naturally pick up loose DNA hanging around and then stick it into its own genetic code. This lets it make new proteins to grow and develop.

So, what these clever scientists did was tinker with these A. baylyi bacteria. They made sure these bacteria held onto long stretches of DNA that’s just like the DNA found in human cancer cells. Think of it like one half of a zipper that latches onto cancer DNA. They focused on a gene called KRAS that’s often messed up in colorectal tumors.

Here’s the kicker: if one of these A. baylyi bacteria grabs the messed up DNA and adds it to its own genes, it also turns on a gene that makes it resistant to antibiotics. That’s how the team figured out if cancer cells were around. Only bacteria that got resistant could grow on dishes full of antibiotics.

The scientists got some good results when they injected mice with colorectal cancer cells in the lab. The mice’s tumor DNA was successfully spotted by these bacteria. But hold your horses, the tech isn’t ready for diagnosing real patients just yet. The team still has work to do. They’re busy making the method work better and checking if it’s as good as other tests out there.

Dan Worthley, one of the folks who worked on the study, shared his thoughts: “But you know what’s really thrilling about this cellular healthcare? It’s not just finding diseases. Any lab can do that.” He’s thinking bigger. Someday, this technology might be able to target and treat specific body parts based on certain DNA bits. That could be a game-changer down the line.

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