One day, you may have the ability to diagnose a bowel disease from the colour of your feces. Scientists have developed germs which produce a pigment when specific molecules linked with colon inflammation have been discovered, which then pass along with your stool.
The work builds on previous research that has been first ran back in 2009. Researchers at Cambridge University genetically engineeredEscherichia coligerms to discover certain molecules and after that secrete particular pigments thatare observable to the naked eye. The pigment genes have been removed from existing organisms and could produce a selection of colours, from red to yellow to purple.
In theory, this could indicate that the altered bacteria could also be used to detect toxins in water, for example, and then generate a pigment in response, even allowing individuals to find out what the concentration of that poison may be. Their issue when it came into the gut, nevertheless, washow long the bacteria would have the ability to survive, limiting itsuse as a diagnostic tool.
This latest research, publishedin Nature Biotechnology, seems to have discovered a means around that. They made altered E. coli that can survive for up to six months within the gut of mice, significantly increasing its potential use in medicine. The team designed theE. coli so that itcan feel a substance known as tetrathionate. This chemical is elevated in patients that haveulcerative colitis, a long term condition where the colon and rectum are inflamed.
Then they took mice that are healthy, also asmice thathad inflammation similar to ulcerative colitis, and populated them using the engineered E. coli. When the germs finds tetrathionate, it turns on a pathway thatleads to the production of a blue pigment. The researchers subsequently tookthe feces from the mice, isolated the germs, and grew them. In these mice with inflammation, the normally white germs were now colored blue.
This experiment was merely a proof of concept that the technique works and canbe altered. There are obviously limits if it had been to be usedas a diagnostic tool, largely that it still requires someone in the laboratory to isolate and culture the bacteria from a patient’s stool.
Nevertheless, this may not always have to be the situation. The gene which codes for the blue pigment, for example, might be swapped for a person which produces polyunsaturated fats, meaning that the individual would have the ability to see for themselves if there are any issues. They could even generate a range of various germs that discover variousmolecules and produce different colored pigments.
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