The MIT Technology Review looks at efforts of scientists at UCSF and UC Berkeley to develop bacterium capable of detecting and attacking neoplastic tissue:
Tumor tissue has unique characteristics, including lower oxygen and higher lactic acid concentrations than surrounding tissue. To create a bacterium that can sense a tumor, Christopher Anderson, a postdoctoral researcher at UCB and UCSF, and colleagues took an oxygen sensor from E. coli and linked it to a special protein, called invasin, from another type of bacteria, which allows the organism to invade cancer cells. In a paper published earlier this year in the Journal of Molecular Biology, the researchers showed in a test tube that the engineered bacterium selectively invades tumor cells.
Anderson and colleagues are now working on making the system even more specific. To ensure that the bacteria invade only tumor cells, they will create a genetic mechanism that allows the invasin protein to be expressed only when two conditions are met, such as when both the oxygen and lactic acid concentrations are at a certain level. Essentially, it’s a genetic version of what’s known in engineering terms as an AND gate — a regulatory circuit that’s turned on only if two conditions are met.