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
AUG 27, 2020
Microbiology
Underground Microbes Use an Ancient Form of Energy Production
AUG 27, 2020
Underground Microbes Use an Ancient Form of Energy Production
Organisms rely on a biological fuel known as ATP, which provides the energy for many processes. In cellular respiration, ...
SEP 09, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Why Liver Gene Therapies Have Not Worked & How to Improve Them
SEP 09, 2020
Why Liver Gene Therapies Have Not Worked & How to Improve Them
Diseases that are caused by errors in a gene might be cured if we could correct those errors, or genetic mutations.
SEP 10, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Could There Be Life on Venus?
SEP 10, 2020
Could There Be Life on Venus?
Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, reaching 465 degrees Celcius- a temperature hot enough to melt lead. Wh ...
OCT 11, 2020
Microbiology
Getting Closer to a Vaccine for Flaviviruses
OCT 11, 2020
Getting Closer to a Vaccine for Flaviviruses
Flaviviruses like dengue, West Nile, Zika, Japanese Encephalitis, and yellow fever infect over 400 million people a year ...
OCT 18, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Small RNA is Connected to Bacterial Pathogenicity
OCT 18, 2020
Small RNA is Connected to Bacterial Pathogenicity
It's thought that as much as half of the global population carries a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori in their stoma ...
OCT 28, 2020
Microbiology
Immune Cells Link Gum Disease to Inflammatory DIsorders
OCT 28, 2020
Immune Cells Link Gum Disease to Inflammatory DIsorders
Scientists and clinicians know that oral health and inflammation, which is a part of many diseases, are connected.
Loading Comments...