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Putting Biofilms to Work

Genetically engineered biofilms could one day be used to release therapeutics, carry out biocatalysis, or manufacture biomaterials

A team at the Wyss Institute sees biofilms as a robust new platform for designer nanomaterials that could treat inflammatory bowel diseases, clean up polluted rivers, manufacture pharmaceutical products, fabricate new textiles, and more.

A novel protein engineering system called BIND, which stands for Biofilm-Integrated Nanofiber Display, could be the essential ingredient in tomorrow’s probiotic therapies as well as provide living “foundries” for producing biomaterials. Biofilms are communities of bacteria ensconced in a slimy but extremely tough matrix of extracellular material made of sugars, proteins, genetic material and more. During biofilm formation, individual bacteria pump out proteins that self-assemble outside the cell – a process that the Wyss Institute team has genetically engineered to harness it for therapeutic and biologic industrial applications.

In this video Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Neel Joshi and Wyss researcher Peter Nguyen describe how BIND (Biofilm-Integrated Nanofiber Display) could be used to redefine biofilms as large-scale production platforms for biomaterials that can be programmed to provide functions not possible with existing materials. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Clinically, researchers envision the biofilm producing microbes could be ingested in a probiotic pill. Specially engineered BINDs would then colonize the gastrointestinal tract in patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases. There, the bacteria would produce and secrete anti-inflammatory factors.

We are essentially programming the cells to be fabrication plants.

Neel Joshi

By being able to alter the composition of the extracellular biofilm material itself on-demand, the Wyss Institute team has essentially turned biofilms into self-replicating production platforms capable of churning out whatever material is desired.

This technology is currently available for licensing.

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