Scientists use sound to track tiny organisms in the body

Our bodies are home to tiny organisms called microbes that play a big role in health, and scientists have developed a new way to track these organisms using sound. They’ve only tested the technique in mice so far, but it could one day be used to enhance treatments for gut disease and cancer.

In mammals, the microbiome consists of an ecosystem of various bacteria and fungi that live inside our bodies. More and more, research finds that microbes affect everything from digestion to infection to birth, and one promising application is to send special microbes inside the body to deliver medicine.

To use microbes to deliver medicine, you need to know exactly where these organisms are. That’s a challenge because microbes usually live deep inside our bodies, and our usual imaging techniques use light and can’t see through that much tissue. One alternative is ultrasound, which works by sending sound waves and analyzing the echoes that come back. (The echoes are different based on the density of the tissue that the sound wave goes through, and different patterns will tell you where something is.)

Some bacteria have hollow structures inside called gas vesicles. These vesicles scatter sound waves in a particular way, so they can be used with ultrasound to track where the organism is. For today’s study, scientists added gas vesicles to cells that don’t normally have them. They injected this engineered bacteria in a mouse gut and, separately, in a mouse tumor. In both cases, they were able to track with ultrasound.

Today’s study proves that this technique is possible, but also shows enormous promise that it can be used to monitor drug delivery in cancer patients. It could help us study the mysteries of the microbiome in general, and perhaps even move beyond the body, to study ecosystems of microbes in the environment.


More information: Acoustic reporter genes for noninvasive imaging of microorganisms in mammalian hosts

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Republican State Enterprise “National Center for Biotechnology” under the Science Committee of Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan (hereinafter – NCB) - country’s leading biological center,  implementing the State policy on support and development of biotechnology industry – was founded by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 1993. The center implements and coordinates the government-funded scientific – technical programmes in the field of biotechnology, biosafety and ecology.

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