Engineering Biorthogonal Phage-Based Nanobots for Ultrasensitive, In Situ Bacteria Detection
journal contributionposted on 08.07.2020, 18:35 by Hannah S. Zurier, Michelle M. Duong, Julie M. Goddard, Sam R. Nugen
Advances in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering are allowing parallel advances in areas such as drug delivery and rapid diagnostics. Although our current visions of nanobots may be far off, a generation of nanobots synthesized by engineering viruses is approaching. Such tools can be used to solve complex problems where current methods do not meet current demands. Assuring safe drinking water is crucial for minimizing the spread of waterborne illnesses. Although extremely low levels of fecal contamination in drinking water are sufficient to cause a public health risk, it remains challenging to rapidly detect Escherichia coli, the standard fecal indicator organism. Current methods sensitive enough to meet regulatory standards suffer from either prohibitively long incubation times or requirement of expensive, impractical equipment. Bacteriophages, tuned by billions of years of evolution to bind viable bacteria and readily engineered to produce custom proteins, are uniquely suited to bacterial detection. We have developed a biosensor platform based on magnetized phages encoding luminescent reporter enzymes. This system utilizes bio-orthogonally functionalized phages to enable site-specific conjugation to magnetic nanoparticles. The resulting phage-based nanobots, when combined with standard, portable field equipment, allow for detection of <10 cfu/100 mL of viable E. coli within 7 h, faster than any methods published to date.