Friday, April 1, 2011

Bacterial Dirigibles

At the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, William E. Bentley, Ph.D. and his study group unveiled what he calls "Bacterial Dirigibles". The name choice comes from the bacteria used. Being Bacillus bacteria (rod shaped) the reference to the great airships such as the Zeppelins seemed natural

The concept behind such Bacterial Dirigibles is simple. We already use genetically modified bacteria to produce insulin, antibiotics and many other drugs. Why not put them to use in the patient instead of just in giant steel production drums? Take the genetic modifications that have made such bacteria such a wonderful producer of drugs and set them loose in the body. Even better, attach a sensor array and you have a targeted drug nano-factory.

The targeting can be accomplished easily enough with a genetic circuit. Bacteria are able to naturally find their way through the body by using the identifier proteins on cells. By combining this with an engineered switch that only activates when then bacteria has located its target, it can effectively produce the necessary drug only at the needed location to treat a wide range of diseases.

This technique could be used to treat cancer, infection, diabetes and a wide range of diseases caused by the lack of a certain protein. As for the engineered bacteria being destroyed by the patients body, slap on the right identifier protein and you are good to go. That is, if you want them to stay. Having them eventually cleared by our immune system means that we don't have needless amounts of these engineered bacteria running throughout our body. But In some cases, having them as permanent residents could be useful.

With this we are seeing the first steps in augmenting our own immune system. While wholly biological, it is still a step in the direction of improving the human species. Such treatment may become mainstream in the years to come, letting other organisms do the fighting for us.

American Chemical Society
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