Tracking Genetically Modified Bacteria


Although many in the general public think of bacteria as something that’s harmful in our human bodies, the reality is that we have at least as many bacteria in our our body as human cells. Some estimates have put bacteria levels in our bodies as high as 10-1 versus human cells! Scientists now know that the majority of bacteria that exists on our skin and within our bodes is essential for our well-being. And in a new bacterial breakthrough, scientists are now able to track bacteria using ultrasound and use the microbes to tell us what is happening inside of us!

In a January 3, 2018 Science News story titled ‘These disease-fighting bacteria produce echoes detectable by ultrasound, the announcement is that, “Ultrasound can now track bacteria in the body like sonar detects submarines.”

The article describes a new technique to genetically modify microbes that can then be detected by ultrasound in order to determine their location within the body. Researchers have previously tracked microbes in the body by genetically engineering the bacteria to glow green in an ultraviolet image, but the view was blurry and didn’t provide an image at depth.

“Bacteria that produce ultrasound signals can also be designed to help diagnose illnesses,” explains study coauthor Mikhail Shapiro, a chemical engineer at Caltech.

According to Shapiro, “a patient could swallow bacteria engineered to create gas pockets wherever the microbes sense inflammation. A doctor could then use ultrasound to search for inflamed tissue, rather than performing a more invasive procedure like a colonoscopy.”

Scientists have performed successful experiments with genetically modified bacteria to destroy tumors and fight cancer cells. The new technique to use ultrasound to track the microbes may help fine-tune the existing procedures and better understand the processes at work.

For more information on the new breakthrough and other Science News stories regarding bacteria in the human body, check out these links: