Biological Bombs at a Microbial level by John Paulo Mendoza

Opponents have access to numerous weapons and efficient communication systems. But like soldiers in the field, they’re also susceptible to suicide bombers. Researchers have used the tools of synthetic biology to create a biological time bomb that obliterates pathogens or the so-called, “most wanted criminals in the field of epidemiology.” The biological time bomb is neither a grenade nor a nuclear weapon. It’s just simply bacteria.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a well-known and usually mild pathogen but a common cause of hospital-acquired infection in South-east Asia has been multiplying fast and often seen in the list of pathogenic bacteria. Bioengineer Chueh Loo Pohand chemical engineer Matthew Wook Changof Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, decided to make an inspired-by-nature antimicrobial project to turn P. aeruginosa’s weapon system against itself, using E. coli as the carrier.

The researchers tweaked the genes that allow P. aeruginosa to detect other members of its species and put this synthetic genetic code into E. coli’s genome. They also gave E. coli a gene for making a modified pyocin that is toxic to P. aeruginosa. By linking the pyocin gene to the sensing genes, the researchers ensured that when the E. coli detected P. aeruginosa in the vicinity, it would fill itself with large amounts of pyocin and become a biological time bomb. When Chang and Poh grew these synthetic E. coli in a dish with P. aeruginosa, the suicide bomber was able to kill 99% of the P. aeruginosa cells. Thus, killing the pathogenic bacteria with the E. coli in the exploding process.

But in the latter part, many synthetic biologists said that exposing E. coli is not “a good thing” because of the fact that the bacteria are toxic outside the gut. For Chang and Poh, a lot of synthetic procedure must be done to completely test this product in the field of medicine. Biology is indeed stretching from afar, not to mention the fascinating concept of exploding bacteria to end pathogenic inhibitions that causes diseases in a country or area that are now prone to widespread errands of infected people.


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