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Image of the Day: Sentinel Cells

Researchers hacked the genetic machinery of E. coli to make them glow and identify proteins linked to cancer.

Jan 16, 2019
Carolyn Wilke

ABOVE: These E. coli with their membranes stained red fluoresce green when their DNA replication has stopped. This can occur in response to an excess of certain proteins linked to cancer.
JUN XIA, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE

In the human body, when cells pump out an excess of certain proteins, they can produce cancer-causing DNA mutations. Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas at Austin genetically modified E. coli bacteria so they could serve as sentinels for these proteins by making the microbes fluoresce when their DNA is damaged, the researchers reported January 10 in Cell. Although E. coli and humans differ in their biology, the researchers found that human varieties of hundreds of proteins identified by the glowing bacteria were more closely linked to cancer in people than a random group of proteins.   

J. Xia et al., “Bacteria-to-human protein networks reveal origins of endogenous DNA damage,” Cell, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2018.12.008, 2019.

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