Engineered Probiotic for the Inhibition of Salmonella via Tetrathionate-Induced Production of Microcin H47

ACS Infect Dis. 2018 Jan 12;4(1):39-45. doi: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.7b00114. Epub 2017 Sep 20.


Complications arising from antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming one of the key issues in modern medicine. Members of drug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae spp. include opportunistic pathogens (e.g., Salmonella spp.) that are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Overgrowth of these bacteria is considered a hallmark of intestinal dysbiosis. Microcins (small antimicrobial peptides) produced by some gut commensals can potentially cure these conditions by inhibiting these pathogens and have been proposed as a viable alternative to antibiotic treatment. In this proof-of-concept work, we leverage this idea to develop a genetically engineered prototype probiotic to inhibit Salmonella spp. upon exposure to tetrathionate, a molecule produced in the inflamed gut during the course of Salmonella infection. We developed a plasmid-based system capable of conferring the ability to detect and utilize tetrathionate, while at the same time producing microcin H47. We transferred this plasmid-based system to Escherichia coli and demonstrated the ability of the engineered strain to inhibit growth of Salmonella in anaerobic conditions while in the presence of tetrathionate, with no detectable inhibition in the absence of tetrathionate. In direct competition assays between the engineered E. coli and Salmonella, the engineered E. coli had a considerable increase in fitness advantage in the presence of 1 mM tetrathionate as compared to the absence of tetrathionate. In this work, we have demonstrated the ability to engineer a strain of E. coli capable of using an environmental signal indicative of intestinal inflammation as an inducing molecule, resulting in production of a microcin capable of inhibiting the organism responsible for the inflammation.

Keywords: Escherichia coli Nissle; Salmonella; engineering; microbiome; microcins; probiotics; tetrathionate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antibiosis*
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Disk Diffusion Antimicrobial Tests
  • Gene Order
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Probiotics*
  • Salmonella / genetics*
  • Salmonella / metabolism*
  • Tetrathionic Acid / metabolism*


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • Peptides
  • microcin H47
  • Tetrathionic Acid