Chemists teach bacteria how to swim and change shape

The Micklefield lab have created synthetic RNA switches (riboswitches) that can control the expression of specific genes in bacterial cells in response to selected synthetic compounds. 

Escherichia coli cells that are immotile (unable to swim) were genetically engineered with a synthetic riboswitch controlling the flagella motor. Addition of a synthetic compound, which binds to the switch, triggered expression of a gene (cheZ) that causes the flagella motor to rotate allowing the E. coli cells to swim. A different bacterial species, Bacillus subtilis, was engineered with a synthetic riboswitch controlling expression of a gene (mreB) that is responsible for maintaining the normal rod shape of the cells. In this case, addition of the synthetic compound switches off expression of mreB, which leads to a morphology change as cells become round. The work is published in the latest issue of J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 10615−10624 (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ja502873j).

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