David Bikard

What if our bacteria could tell us what they saw?

Posted Sep 16, 2022, 12:00 PM

We live in symbiosis with billions of micro-organisms that inhabit our body, and especially our intestine. Imbalances in the composition of these microbial communities are associated with many diseases: diabetes, colorectal cancer, autism, inflammatory bowel disease, etc. To better understand these pathologies and the role that microbes play, we need to obtain a detailed picture of the intestinal environment and how it responds to various stimuli such as diet, medication or lifestyle.

A stable recording over time

A Swiss research team has just published in the journal “Science” an extremely ingenious method which allows the intestine to be observed in a different light ( Florian Schmidt et al., Noninvasive assessment of gut function using transcriptional recording sentinel cells, “Science » 376 ). The strategy is based on the design by genetic engineering of sentinel bacteria capable of recording their physiological state during their passage through the intestine. This recording takes place within the bacteria’s own DNA, making it extremely stable over time. This makes it possible to measure many parameters of the intestinal environment by simply reading the DNA of bacteria recovered in the stool.

Used in mice, this strategy made it possible to distinguish animals according to the diet they received, or to reveal signatures of intestinal inflammation. Beyond the many possible applications as a research tool, this approach will be able to provide rich data for diagnostic purposes, allowing access to information that cannot be captured in any other way, whether in blood, breath or stool.

In addition, sentinel bacteria can maintain a history of conditions encountered over long periods of time, which could be particularly useful for monitoring patients with chronic diseases. Before arriving there, many improvements in technology will be necessary, but the main obstacle to its use in humans, at least in Europe, will undoubtedly be regulatory since it involves GMO bacteria.

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