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Bacterial Sonar

January 15, 2018

Using ultrasound to see deep within with the mammalian gut with genetically engineered bacteria.

Transcript

A bacterial cell that has been genetically engineered to form gas-filled vesicles. (Anupama Lakshmanan/Caltech)

A bacterial cell that has been genetically engineered to form gas-filled vesicles. (Anupama Lakshmanan/Caltech)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Microbial sonar. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Microbes can be genetically engineered to act as therapeutic agents or diagnose disease. But figuring out if they’ve reached their target within the body can be tricky. Now, Caltech researchers have introduced genes into the microbes that make them possible to track using ultrasound. Chemical engineer Mikhail Shapiro says the genes normally code for gas-filled sacs in floating organisms.

MIKHAIL SHAPIRO (Caltech):

So if you want a cell to show up under ultrasound you need the cell to have something in it that is very different from the surrounding tissue. When a sound wave encounters a cell that contains these gas vesicles inside of it, some of that sound wave gets reflected back and we can tell where that object is.

HIRSHON:

Shapiro’s team reports in the journal Nature that this allows them to visualize therapeutic bacteria that they’ve sent deep within the body. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard