Scientists develop reprogrammed E. coli to treat resistant infections

Researchers developed a new type of E. coli bacteria to kill off tough-to-treat infections in the lungs, the bladder and on implanted medical devices, according to a study recently published in ACS Synthetic Biology.

Matthew Wook Chang from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and his colleagues reprogrammed E. coli to kill off a group of bacteria known as biofilms. Biofilm infections occur when bacteria hide away under a protective barrier of DNA, proteins and sugars that make them resistant to conventional therapies.

While researchers made bacteria to fight off other microbes in the past, Chang's team overcame the limitations of previous efforts by developing bacteria that sense an infection, swim toward it and kill off the disease-causing microbes.

The team reprogrammed E. coli to sense Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that forms biofilms and causes hospital-acquired infections in the gut and lungs. The reprogrammed E. coli can sense P. aeruginosa, swim toward it and attack it with an antimicrobial peptide and an enzyme that breaks down biofilms. The researchers said the strategy used to engineer the microbe could be used against multiple pathogens.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus cause at least two million infections annually in the U.S. The E. coli engineering strategy could potentially be used to treat such resistant infections as well.