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.
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.
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.