Fluorescent detection of bacteria and cancer

Researchers at Michigan Tech have a beautiful new way to detect E. coli that may lend itself to detection of other bacteria and even cancer cells. They bound the sugar mannose to a fluorescing polymer. To put it simply, when the E. coli grabs the mannose, the bacteria becomes coated with fluorescence and can then be viewed easily with a microscope. By binding various sugars, hormones, and other materials to differently fluorescing polymers, a variety of nasties could be detected all at once. This method has huge potential for food borne disease, in which the symptoms of many bacteria look alike, but fast identification of the bacteria is incredibly important so the offending food can be recalled before too many more people get sick. I wonder how expensive it is to make the fluorescent polymers and to attach them to the sugar or other molecule. If it is cheap enough, this method could possibly be used to test foods so we could avoid sickness in the first place.
I love this snazzy mock up of the fluorescing bacteria. Amazingly, like GFP, these fluoresing polymers actually look this bright in real life.
From Glow, Little E. coli: The Making of Luminous Bacteria on Newswise.

Written by Anastasia Bodnar

Anastasia Bodnar is a science communicator and science policy expert with a PhD in plant genetics and sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Anastasia has had various risk analysis roles in US government and military service. She serves as BFI's Director of Policy and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog.