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Biotech Science

Training Bacteria To Deliver Drugs? 29

Hugh Pickens writes "While it may seem unlikely that single-celled organisms could be trained to salivate like Pavlov's dog at the sound of a bell, researchers say that bacteria can 'learn' to associate one stimulus with another by employing molecular circuits. This raises the possibility that bioengineers could teach bacteria to act as sentinels for the human body, ready to spot and respond to signs of danger. As with Pavlov's dog, the bacteria in the model learn to build stronger associations between the two stimuli the more they occur together. Now called Hebbian learning, it's often expressed as a situation in which 'neurons that fire together wire together.'" (More below.)
"Bacteria, of course, don't have synapses or nerve cells, but Eva Jablonka, who just published a paper on conditioning in single-celled organisms (PDF), says it seems 'quite possible at the theoretical level, and I don't see great obvious hurdles for the construction of the suggested vectors.' The trick will be to train bacteria to recognize chemical processes in the body that are associated with danger like an adverse and dangerous reaction to a drug, or to the presence of tumor cells."
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Training Bacteria To Deliver Drugs?

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  • weed (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @01:11AM (#25242507)
    in high school i tried to train a dog to deliver drugs, but he kept eating my weed
    • by Smivs ( 1197859 )
      Not a problem with bacteria....I mean how much can a single cell actually eat? Re my Sig, you must have a really weedy dog!
  • If these bacteria are my 'sentinels' then who's my Mr. Smith? And what if the sentinels become like Mr. Smith and start/end up multiplying? I sure hope the technology isn't good enough to pass on their 'molecular circuits' to their copies. Does that make me the source or the matrix?

    And there sure as hell better be a killswitch...that doesn't require a defib. You case of those will-never-happen malfunctions.

  • by nog_lorp ( 896553 ) * on Friday October 03, 2008 @03:27AM (#25243007)

    If my dealer can do it, I'm sure bacteria can. The question is, can they do it without getting DUIs all the time?

  • Not Hebb (Score:5, Informative)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @03:40AM (#25243069) Journal

    They're called Hebbian cellular assemblies because many cells work together. This is an entirely different concept than a single celled organism alone adapting physiologically to stimuli. That effect is well known. It has been examined in terms of altering DNA to change the organism's reactions with that altered DNA being transfered to others, as well as in chemical/mRNA learning and communication as outlined by James McConnell (Worm Runner's Digest) and many others. The only thing nearly unique in TFA is the specific task proposed. If it's worth publication, so is every other potential result of this well established effect. There was no reason to bring up Hebb. TFA would have been better (though not necessarily much good) had he been left out.

    • Oh yeah (Score:3, Informative)

      by DynaSoar ( 714234 )

      I forgot: Training them to deliver drugs is comparatively trivial compared to the other training necessary -- making them able to avoid detection by the immune system and not to react with hostility when it does. A bacterium that usually doesn't trigger the body's defenses can trigger it after being altered. Altered bug == not the same bug.

  • Quite often I'd walk into Redfern to see Helicobacter Pylori hanging around on street corners, gold chains, shifty looking flagella and a Burberry outfit. Sometimes you see them driving down George street in their pimped out white cells kitted out with spinning nuclei and neon ribosomes...

    • Well, I currently have no mod points I can give you, but...

      TWO THUMBS UP! on ++Funny from my keyboard, and I'm not an Australian!

      *disclaimer* I'm from the USA, but the concept you have used is applicable to most/any USA medium to large cities.

      Perhaps it is a global picture that is representative (is that a real word?) of the human species that have 'easy times' combined with high population density.

      I am not a sociologist, psychiatrist, economist, nor any other *ist, except maybe a 'hobby'-ist.

      I am really no

    • Overheard at the doctor's office:

      "Good grief, you have the worst Chavobacter infection I've ever seen! Worse yet, it's multi-drug resistant! It's already developed massive tolerance to everything on the street!"

  • ... that bacteria don't have neurons. But I guess the principle works for any kind of information processing. Though you might need evolution to produce the results in single-celled organisms.
    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      Y'know I'm thinking maybe neurons aren't that stupid. And the problem they have is they're rather small, lacking in senses and don't have much control over stuff.

      I mean how intelligent could a genius appear to be if they were a microscopic blob of protoplasm.
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      They don't have muscles either, but somehow the wiggle their flagella. Same problem, different scale, different solution, I suppose.

      It's funny, but I never thought of this before. Do bacteria just move around randomly, possibly modulating this a bit depending on environmental conditions, until they bump into something? Or do they move in a particular direction in response to some stimuli?

      The idea that they can be trained indicates some kind of information processing is going on, and, obviously, that pro

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mikael ( 484 )

        Bacteria can sense chemical gradients. This is particularly useful being able to determine whether a long-term food supply is nearby and to continue reproducing or to just slow down and stick together with other bacteria. Then you get all sorts of amazing patterns forming [].

  • I'm now stuck with a mental image of a faithful little bacterium, with a tiny capsule hung around it's little neck somehow, racing to the rescue like an old cartoon St Bernard with a brandy cask.
  • Humans are remarkably good at training other creatures to do stuff. Heck, we have a fleet of storks to deliver all of our babies for us!
  • I find that positive reinforcement works best. The trick is finding an appropriate reward for the bacteria when they do something correctly. I'd start with "Who's a good little bacteria? You are! Yes you are!" and work up to some kind of snack ...

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray