Photo Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Laussane

Experts believe that if no new tools to combat drug-resistant microbes are produced, such infections could kill as many as 10 million people by 2050. 

With this in mind, and after the United Nations acknowledged antibiotic resistance as a global issue in September 2016, governments have racked up funding for methods to battle antibiotic resistance, reports Futurism. In particular, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States announced that it had awarded more than $14 million to fund new approaches to combat resistance. 

Taking matters into their own hands, researchers believe that synthetic biology could be the next step to tackle harmful bacteria. By creating their own microbes, researchers could provide targeted solutions to deadly bacteria, which traditional antibiotics increasingly cannot deliver. 

French startup, Eligo Bioscience is one company who is creating genetically engineered “biological nanobots” to combat antibiotic resistance. The nanobots are made of synthesised DNA and protein that allow them to specifically target resistant bacteria. 

Eligos CEO, Xavier Duportet, explained that their approach is to only get rid of the disease-causing bacteria, targeting their DNA with a lot more accuracy. A patient would ingest the nanobots, which would then remain inactive until they made their way to the gut, where they would use the CRISPR gene editing enzyme to scan bacterial DNA and identify their target. Once the nanobots have located the disease-causing bacteria, they would destroy it by cutting out sections of genetic code.The nanobots would then become a healthy part of the microbiome, staving off future attacks from their targeted bacteria. 

He said, “It’s really hard to make money out of antibiotics that will not kill all of the bacteria. Even if you manage to do that, your new drug will be used not as a first-line antibiotic, but as a last resort. That marker is extremely small and nobody is ready to pay for that.”

There is potential for Eligos’ drugs to be used as a first line of defense, which could be deployed before a patient even knows this is needed. “It could be used as a prophylactic drug to really remove all the antibiotic-resistant bacteria from someone even before patients get sick from them,” Duportet continued. 

Moreover, there would even be the opportunity to use it in other sectors, in hospitals for example. Surgeons are sometimes wary of operating on patients that carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their microbiota. Eligo’s synthetic bacteria could be used to decolonise patients of these bacteria, therefore reducing the threat of infection. 

Professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Timothy Lu, believes that Eligo’s core technology has proven to kill bacteria as promised. 

Although he believes the company will fact challenges in bringing the technology into the clinic, he suggested that the biggest challenge will be to “optimise delivery of the therapeutic payloads in humans.” 

It will no doubt take Eligo a few more years of research until they are able to make sure their nanobots actually make it to the gut to do their job, but for now, their idea of synthetic biology is one to watch.