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Commandeering microbes pave way for synthetic biology in military environments

Date: 1.10.2018 

A team of scientists from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed and demonstrated a pioneering synthetic biology tool to deliver DNA programming into a broad range of bacteria. Kredit: US Army / Autumn Kulaga.

"Much of the current work in synthetic biology has used a small number of domesticated microbes, including E. coli or yeast," said Dr. Bryn Adams of ARL's Biotechnology Branch. "Unlocking genetic access to undomesticated microbes has been a major barrier to military adoption of synthetic biology products."

Adams further explained that there is a need for broadly applicable synthetic biology tools that allow access to a wide range of microorganisms, including the most fundamental step of genetic engineering the ability to transfer DNA into a cell.

The team's novel approach to address this problem uses an engineered Bacillus subtilis bacterium, termed XPORT, to deliver DNA in a highly precise and controlled fashion to a wide variety of bacteria.

The XPORT bacteria facilitated multiple demonstrations of newly programmed function, including fluorescent protein reporting, in 35 different bacteria, some of which were never before identified let alone characterized as they were only recently isolated from a soil moisture sensor at the laboratory.





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