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Attack Bacteria

May 15, 2015

Bioengineers create bacteria that can act as smart drug delivery machines.



EscherichiaColi_Rocky Mountain Laboratory NIAID

Scanning electon microscope image of E. Coli. (Rocky Mountain Laboratory/NIAID/Public Domain)

Teaching bacteria to team up. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For years, scientists have engineered microbes like the gut bacteria E. coli to produce industrial chemicals in vats. University of Maryland bioengineer William Bentley and his colleagues are building E. coli that return to their natural habitat—the body—to fight cancer and pathogens. At a conference on chemical and biological defense organized by the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, or DTRA, Bentley discussed efforts to make the bacteria focus on their goal.

WILLIAM BENTLEY (University of Maryland):

It’s complicated, because there’s all sorts of molecules around that cells always experience and change their behavior, and so we want to make sure that they stay on task.


While a bacterium has no brain, Bentley says groups of them can work together to sense and respond to their environment in complex ways—including recognizing and eliminating diseased tissue or pathogens. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.