DURHAM, N.C. The hunter-versus-hunted phenomenon exemplified by a pack of lionesses chasing down a lonely gazelle has been recreated in a Petri dish with lowly bacteria.
Working with colleagues at Caltech, Stanford and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a Duke University bioengineer has developed a living system using genetically altered bacteria that he believes can provide new insights into how the population levels of prey influence the levels of predators, and vice-versa.
The Duke experiment is an example of a synthetic gene circuit, where researchers load new "programming" into bacteria to make them perform new functions. Such re-programmed bacteria could see a wide variety of applications in medicine, environmental cleanup and biocomputing. In this particular Duke study, researchers rewrote the software of the common bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli.) to form a mutually dependent living circuit of predator and prey.
The bacterial predators don't actually eat the prey, however. The two populations control each others' suicide rates.
We created a synthetic ecosystem made up of two distinct populations of E. coli, each with its own specific set of programming and each with the ability to affect the existence of the other, said Lingchong You, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Dukes Pratt School of Engineering and member of Dukes Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy. This ecosystem is quite similar to the traditional predator-prey relationship seen in nature and may allow us to explore the dynamics of interacting populations in a predictable manner.
The results of Yous study appear April 15 in the journal Molecular Systems Biology. The research was supported by National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
This field of study, known as synthetic biology, emerged o
|Contact: Richard Merritt|