Programmable probiotics for detection of cancer in urine

Tal Danino, Arthur Prindle, Gabriel A. Kwong, Matthew Skalak, Howard Li, Kaitlin Allen, Jeff Hasty, Sangeeta N. Bhatia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Rapid advances in the forward engineering of genetic circuitry in living cells has positioned synthetic biology as a potential means to solve numerous biomedical problems, including disease diagnosis and therapy. One challenge in exploiting synthetic biology for translational applications is to engineer microbes that are well tolerated by patients and seamlessly integrate with existing clinical methods. We use the safe and widely used probiotic Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 to develop an orally administered diagnostic that can noninvasively indicate the presence of liver metastasis by producing easily detectable signals in urine. Our microbial diagnostic generated a high-contrast urine signal through selective expansion in liver metastases (106-fold enrichment) and high expression of a lacZ reporter maintained by engineering a stable plasmid system. The lacZ reporter cleaves a substrate to produce a small molecule that can be detected in urine. E. coli Nissle 1917 robustly colonized tumor tissue in rodent models of liver metastasis after oral delivery but did not colonize healthy organs or fibrotic liver tissue. We saw no deleterious health effects on the mice for more than 12 months after oral delivery. Our results demonstrate that probiotics can be programmed to safely and selectively deliver synthetic gene circuits to diseased tissue microenvironments in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number289ra84
JournalScience translational medicine
Issue number289
StatePublished - May 27 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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