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Published on Jul 20, 2016
UC San Diego researchers led by Jeff Hasty, a professor of bioengineering and biology, engineered a clinically relevant bacterium to produce cancer drugs and then self-destruct and release the drugs at the site of tumors. This video shows a colony of bacteria undergoing oscillations of synchronized lysis via timelapse fluorescence microscopy. The colony grows until the sensing molecule reaches a critical density which causes synchronized transcription of the lysis protein across the entire population of bacteria. A green fluorescent protein is also produced to visualize the moment this synchronization occurs. The bacteria co-cultured with cancer cells release a cancer drug upon synchronized lysis, resulting in the subsequent death of the cancer cells.
Consistent with the engineering design, they observed cycling of the bacterial population that successfully limits overall growth while simultaneously enabling production and release of encoded cargo. When the bacteria were equipped with a gene that drives production of a therapeutic, the synchronized lysis of the bacterial colony was shown to kill human cancer cells. It is the first engineered gene circuit in synthetic biology to achieve these objectives. The findings are published in the July 20 issue of Nature.