An Unlikely Ally in the Fight Against Bacteria

By Simon Morrow

Healing a wound is a battle, with bacteria congregating and multiplying on the wound surface, preventing healing and causing infections. Gathering bacteria can secrete a sticky material that keeps them glued to each other and the wound while also providing defense by making it harder for antibiotics to get inside, creating what is known as a biofilm. These biofilms are bacterial aggregates that are formed on any solid surface in an aqueous environment like those in the human body. About 80 percent of infectious diseases come from the biofilm state, according to Illinois Tech Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Seok Hoon Hong.

Recognizing the problems that are created by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Hong wanted to develop a new approach in targeting biofilms—but he says that he wanted to be sure that the method wouldn’t harm the good bacteria that can help the immune system. So, he went to an unlikely ally: E.coli, a bacteria commonly known to cause food poisoning. Hong’s engineered E.coli creates an antimicrobial protein that only targets specific pathogens, allowing it to eradicate the harmful biofilm. Hong believes his method of attack could be used to treat many infectious diseases within 10 to 20 years.