SEP 02, 2015 5:47 PM PDT

Microbes Diagnose Zinc Deficiency

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
Vitamin and mineral deficiency is a significant global health problem.  Nearly 18% of the global population is deficient in micronutrients such as iron, folate, vitamin A, and zinc.  Dietary supplements can correct these deficiencies, but researchers must first identify which populations are at risk.  This is a challenge because it is difficult to diagnose nutritional deficiencies in resource-poor areas.  Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, however, have set out to tackle this problem.

Researchers engineered E. coli to sense and respond to zinc levels. 
The team, led by assistant professor Mark Styczynski, engineered E. coli to sense and respond to zinc in blood samples.  How did they turn E. coli into such a sophisticated bio-sensor?  Lucky for them, the bacteria already produce a system that senses zinc.  The next step was to link this sensor to pigment production.  For this, they incorporated genes from other bacteria that produce lycopene (red pigment), beta-carotene (orange), and violacein (purple).
 
The idea is that healthcare personnel working in resource-poor areas can separate plasma from blood samples using a simple centrifuge.  Then, they will add a freeze-dried pellet of bacteria to the plasma.  After around 24 hours, the bacteria will produce enough pigment to be easily visible to the naked eye.  Purple means there is too little zinc, while orange and red indicate normal and borderline levels, respectively.  According to Styczynski, “the general idea of bio-sensing is certainly out there, but we have taken the step of developing a system that doesn’t require equipment in the field … we believe this will work well in low-resource areas”.
 
One drawback is that E. coli does not require the same micronutrients as humans.  This means that other organisms, such as yeast, will have to be similarly engineered as bio-sensors.  Regardless, this “bacterial litmus test” could no doubt revolutionize medical diagnostics for resource-poor communities.


 
Sources: Metabolic Engineering, Science Daily, CDC
About the Author
Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
You May Also Like
MAR 17, 2022
Immunology
How Bacteria Can Keep Intestinal Inflammation in Check
MAR 17, 2022
How Bacteria Can Keep Intestinal Inflammation in Check
We need bile acids to help us digest food and absorb nutrients. New research has shown how bile acids modified by bacter ...
APR 12, 2022
Microbiology
Thousands of Novel RNA Viruses Found In Ocean Water Samples
APR 12, 2022
Thousands of Novel RNA Viruses Found In Ocean Water Samples
Microbes have colonized every part of the world, including our bodies, and there are so may we know nothing about. Advan ...
APR 20, 2022
Immunology
Rare Soil Microbe Shows Promise as New Antibiotic
APR 20, 2022
Rare Soil Microbe Shows Promise as New Antibiotic
  Antibiotic resistance has increased the demand for new antibiotic treatments. Now, researchers have found that a ...
APR 24, 2022
Immunology
COVID-19 Vaccine is Safe, Effective for Kids & Teens
APR 24, 2022
COVID-19 Vaccine is Safe, Effective for Kids & Teens
A variety of studies by different reseaech groups have now confirmed that the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is s ...
APR 28, 2022
Cancer
Can Urine Help Detect Prostate Cancer?
APR 28, 2022
Can Urine Help Detect Prostate Cancer?
It is estimated that over 250.000 men in the United States will receive prostate cancer diagnoses in 2022, acc ...
MAY 15, 2022
Microbiology
A Virus Was Used to Cure an Antibiotic-Resistant Lung Infection
MAY 15, 2022
A Virus Was Used to Cure an Antibiotic-Resistant Lung Infection
In a clinical first, reported in Cell, researchers used viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages or phages fo ...
Loading Comments...