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May 27, 2021

Glowing Pains!

Bioengineers create pH-sensing gut bacteria to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease

Credit: National Science Foundation

Glowing Pains!

Hi, I'm Mo with the NSF -- the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Have you ever driven down a nearly empty street cruising through green light after green light? Feeling like the luckiest driver on four wheels? Only to have a vehicle on a side road approach your very next intersection triggering traffic light sensors, turning your light red, and ultimately ending your momentum?

Researchers at Rice University, and the University of Colorado, used the same traffic principles to detect acid in the body to help diagnose inflammatory bowel diseases or IBD -- like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

The team engineered a harmless strain of the gut bacterium e. coli that glows in the presence of acid.

Using optical equipment, the scientists observed that under normal conditions, the bacteria would glow red. But would glow green when encountering acidic conditions. The more acid, the brighter the green glow.

Scientists believe these sensor bacteria could be placed in food and programmed to turn toilet water blue to warn patients at the early stages of an IBD flare-up.

These findings proved to be a useful and valuable set of biomarkers for active inflammation in the intestines and could potentially lead to early diagnosis of human disease.

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