iGEM Leiden 2018: Fifty Shades of Stress

 A colourful screening platform for detecting bacterial cell stress.  Left to right: Lotte Weel (Human Practices manager), Marijke Grundeken (PR manager), Chiel van Amstel (Programming manager), Laurens ter Haar (Wiki manager), Daphne van den Homberg (Secretary & design manager), Marjolein Crooijmans (Science manager), Charlotte de Ceunink van Capelle (Team captain), Tim de Jong (Fundraising manager), Mees Fox (Event manager). Bottom row: Carli Koster (PR manager), Maaike de Jong (Treasurer), Jazzy de Waard (Fundraising manager), Germaine Aalderink (Lab & Safety manager)

A colourful screening platform for detecting bacterial cell stress.

Left to right: Lotte Weel (Human Practices manager), Marijke Grundeken (PR manager), Chiel van Amstel (Programming manager), Laurens ter Haar (Wiki manager), Daphne van den Homberg (Secretary & design manager), Marjolein Crooijmans (Science manager), Charlotte de Ceunink van Capelle (Team captain), Tim de Jong (Fundraising manager), Mees Fox (Event manager). Bottom row: Carli Koster (PR manager), Maaike de Jong (Treasurer), Jazzy de Waard (Fundraising manager), Germaine Aalderink (Lab & Safety manager)

If you have ever had a bacterial infection, you probably went to the doctor, got an antibiotic treatment for a couple of weeks and that was the end of the story. However, this has not always been the case. Before 1928, when Alexander Fleming discovered antibiotics, thousands of people died annually of bacterial infections. This era could return with the rise of antibiotic resistance and your next bacterial infection may end differently.

While we have been able to end almost all bacterial infections easily for the past decades using antibiotics, more and more pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to current therapies. This resistance develops naturally as a result of evolution. Some bacteria may have a genetic advantage which allows them to survive antibacterial treatments. Through natural selection this population will grow, making the bacteria strain resistant. The occurrence of resistance is further increased by inappropriate use and prescription of antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is predicted to lead to 10 million annual deaths by 2050 which illustrates the need for new solutions. However, only a handful of new antibiotics have been found in the past three decades. Fortunately, the iGEM team from Leiden University will develop a new approach to this problem. We will develop a system which will enable easy and cheap identification of different kinds of bacterial cell stress. Our system can be implemented in screenings for new antibacterial substances which will help in the fight against resistant bacteria.

To realise this new screening method, we will develop an E. coli reporter strain that produces a variety of colourful chromoproteins when exposed to distinct cellular stresses. To illustrate, bacteria exposed to a substance interfering with protein translation will produce a red colour, whereas cell wall synthesis inhibitors elicit a blue color. This way the stress caused by potential antibiotics can be screened for. This expands current screening methods, which only return compounds that are lethal to bacteria.

These newly found stress inducing compounds, are not deadly by themselves, but a lethal cocktail can be produced when combining multiple compounds that cause different types of stress. Stressful compounds may also be used as additives in existing therapies. This novel strategy opens up many new possibilities for treatment of resistant bacteria, delaying the onset of resistance.

This new screening method could lead to the discovery of new antibiotics, and help treat your future bacterial infections. This way the antimicrobial resistance crisis can be averted and we will not have to return to the world before 1928.

Visit our website for more information on our project and be sure to check out our social media to follow our journey to Boston!

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-        By Carli Koster – PR iGEM Leiden