Designer Bacteria Detect Cancer

Every day scientists apply creative ideas to solve real-world problems. Every so often a paper comes up that highlights the creativity and elegance of this process in a powerful way. The paper “Programmable probiotics for detection of cancer in urine”, published May 27 in Science Translational Medicine, provides one great example of the application of scientific creativity to develop potential new ways for early detection of cancer.

The paper describes use of an engineered strain of E.coli to detect liver tumors in mice. The authors (Danino et al) developed a potential diagnostic assay that uses a simple oral delivery method and provides a readout from urine, all of which is made possible by some seriously complex and elegant science. Continue reading

Synthetic Biology: Reaching Back 20 …Make that 50 Years

Recently I had the opportunity to meet emeritus professor Dr. Waclaw Szybalski from the University of Wisconsin- Madison, who has worked at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research since 1960.  

During an interview we discussed Dr. Szybalski’s amazing exit from his native Poland in 1946 following the alternating German and Soviet occupations, his education in the early days of genetic engineering, and finally the foundational work he has done in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic genetic engineering.

Photo of award from Polish government for Szybalski's research contributions.

Doctor Honoris Causa awarded to Waclaw Szybalski. Szybalski, in his laboratory, background. Photo: Maciek Smuga-Otto.

At age 90 Szybalski continues to maintain a laboratory with postgraduate students. At the same time (and with Promega’s assistance) he continues to support research in Poland. In May 2011, Szybalski was honored by the President of Poland with the highest order, Grand Cross of Polonia Restituta, celebrating his many scientific contributions, including: 1) establishment of the genetic basis of antibiotic resistance in bacteria;
2) multidrug therapy for bacterial pathogens and leukemia; and 3) the ability to sensitize mammalian cells to radiation. Continue reading