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Ingestible 'Bacteria on a Chip' Could Help Diagnose Disease

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The ingestible sensor equipped with bacteria programmed to sense environmental conditions and relay the information to an electronic circuit.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have built an ingestible sensor equipped with genetically engineered bacteria that can diagnose gastrointestinal problems.

Credit: Lillie Paquette/MIT

A new ingestible sensor can help diagnose gastrointestinal (GI) problems, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers.

The approach uses sensors made from living cells, combined with ultra-low-power electronics that translate the bacterial response into a wireless signal that a smartphone can read.

Focusing on bleeding in the GI tract, the team created a probiotic strain of E. coli to express a genetic circuit that causes the bacteria to emit light when it encounters heme, a component of blood. The bacteria filled four wells on a custom-designed sensor, covered by a semipermeable membrane. A phototransistor underneath each well measured the light produced by the bacterial cells, sending the information to a microprocessor that transmitted a wireless signal to a nearby computer or smartphone.

In tests on pigs, the ingestible sensor correctly determined whether blood was present in the stomach.

The new sensor could prevent an unnecessary endoscopy by quickly revealing whether a bleeding event had occurred.

As a next step, the researchers plan to reduce the sensor's size and develop sensors for additional GI conditions.

From MIT News
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