Should a study by a team of students from Missouri University of Science and Technology become reality, individuals suffering with diabetes will be able to monitor their blood sugar levels in a more cost-effective way.

Recently, the team of students at the Missouri S&T chapter of iGEM – the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation – designed a biological system using pieces of DNA implanted in bacteria to identify glucose. According to the team, their design could lead to a novel kind of test strip for individuals with diabetes.

Erica Shannon of Wildwood, Mo., a senior in biological sciences at Missouri S&T and president of the campus’s iGEM chapter, explained:

“We designed DNA so that bacteria that have DNA would sense a change in osmolarity due to the presence of glucose.” (Osmolarity is the measure of solute concentration – in this case, glucose.)

The team created genes that allow the bacteria (a non-virulent strain of E.coli) to detect if simple sugar glucose are present. When glucose is present, the bacteria give off a yellow glow, which shines brighter as glucose concentrations become higher.

The system was created as part of a yearly competition sponsored by iGEM, the Americas Regional Jamboree, held in Indianapolis on October 8th to 10th, 2011. A silver medal was awarded to S&T’s iGEM chapter for their effort.

This biological system could help to develop novel, less expensive methods to help individuals suffering with diabetes control their blood glucose levels, according to Shannon. The system would require the fluorescent gene to be replaced with one that would cause the bacteria to change color depending on sugar levels. This could result in the development of novel blood-test strips that could reveal sugar levels based on various colors. For example, if glucose levels are within range, the test strip might turn green. If levels are borderline, the color changes to yellow and if elevated, to red.

Shannon explains:

“All you would have to do is put the DNA inside a bacteria and you’ve got your test strip.

Bacteria-based test strips would also be less expensive to make than current chemical-based test strips.

In the future, based on further research, an insulin gene could be added to this system for use in insulin pumps, where specific glucose levels trigger insulin production.”

Written by Grace Rattue