DNA, our "code of life", hides secrets that can save lives: today, perhaps, there is one less. A group of scientists has made a very interesting discovery: engineered bacteria capable of detecting tumor DNA in living organisms.
Bacteria and DNA: a revolutionary dance
Technology is making possible what was once considered impossible. The joint efforts of scientists fromUniversity of California, San Diego and Australian researchers have created bacteria capable of "seeing" and detecting tumor DNA in living organisms. In six words? Bacteria that can detect cancer.
Even in the past, bacteria have been modified for various diagnostic and therapeutic roles (even against cancer), but lacked the ability to identify specific DNA sequences and mutations outside the cells. That's where it comes in"Cellular Assay for Targeted CRISPR-discriminated Hhorizontal gene transfer", or as scientists like to call it, CATCH. More than an acronym, the promise of a future where early diagnosis could be the rule, not the exception.
Bacteria "sensors" of tumor DNA: the discovery
The leader of the scientific team, Jeff Hasty, a professor affiliated with several departments at UC San Diego, shared his thoughts. "When we started this journey four years ago, the idea of using bacteria as mammalian DNA sensors was an enigma." But like any great puzzle, once solved, it opens the door to endless possibilities.
How exactly does it work? Well, it's all about the behavior of cancers. The latter release their DNA into the surrounding environment. While current technology allows purified DNA to be analyzed in the laboratory, the ability to detect tumor DNA in the same environments into which it is released was lacking. The CATCH methodology leverages CRISPR technology to examine 'free' DNA sequences at the genome level, comparing these samples to known carcinogenic sequences.
A future full of hope
With the collaboration of Susan Woods e Josephine Wright from Australia, the bacterium Acinetobacter baylyi it has been turned into a sensor and "tuned specifically to the DNA" of the KRAS gene, which often mutates in many cancers. The innovation is based on the concept of 'horizontal gene transfer', in which organisms exchange genetic material in a way that deviates from the usual parent-offspring genetic inheritance.
Siddhartha Mukherjee, an associate professor at Columbia University, expressed excitement about the ramifications of this discovery. "The future will see diseases fought by cells, not just pills," he says. The potential of a live bacterium capable of detecting tumor DNA within the intestine offers a great opportunity to identify and prevent gastrointestinal tumors, and beyond.
The work undertaken (and published in Science, I link it here) expects further refinements and developments, Hasty and his team at UC San Diego are intent on perfecting this biosensor. And with passion, determination and science on their side, they could change the history of medicine.