11 January 2018

Ultrasound for microbes

Scientists have bred beneficial bacteria that can be tracked using ultrasound


In order to determine the location of the submarine, sonar technology is used: the sound signal sent is reflected from the hull of the submarine and picked up by a sensitive sonar sensor. And now a similar method, thanks to the work of researchers from the California Institute of Technology, can be used to track beneficial bacteria launched for therapeutic purposes inside the human body. And the key to all this is a specially developed new type of bacteria, whose body is able to effectively reflect ultrasonic waves.

This idea originated with Mikhail Shapiro about six years ago, when he first heard about bacteria of the species Anabaena flos-aquae, which live in an aquatic environment and regulate their buoyancy level using special protein structures, the inside of which is filled with gas. Studies have shown that these bubbles reflect sound waves well enough and due to this, this type of bacteria can be distinguished from other types of bacterial cells.

After that, Mikhail Shapiro's group extracted the genes responsible for the formation of gas bubbles from Anabaena flos-aquae bacteria and placed these genes in Escherichia coli bacteria, safe strains of which are widely used for therapeutic purposes. After solving a number of problems, scientists obtained E.coli bacteria, inside which their own bubbles were successfully formed.

Electronic micrograph from the Scientists Design Bacteria press release to Reflect "Sonar" Signals for Ultrasound Imaging – VM.

With the help of high-precision ultrasound scanning technology, scientists were able to determine the location of modified E.coli bacteria launched into the body of the experimental animal. This technology has already been described and is available for use by other scientists in relation to animals. But it has not yet been tested enough to be used in humans. But, as soon as this happens, doctors will be able to determine the moment when beneficial bacteria, "stuffed" with medicines, are guaranteed to reach their destination, and send a certain signal activating the therapeutic function of these bacteria.

"Now we are striving to be able to control the movement of bacteria and control their actions," says Mikhail Shapiro, "The first step towards this goal can already be considered passed, we have already learned to identify and visualize the location of even individual bacterial cells. And the next stage of our research will be the direction of providing "communication" with these bacteria and giving them appropriate commands."

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