Engineering microbes for targeted strikes against human pathogens

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2018 Aug;75(15):2719-2733. doi: 10.1007/s00018-018-2827-7. Epub 2018 May 7.


Lack of pathogen specificity in antimicrobial therapy causes non-discriminant microbial cell killing that disrupts the microflora present. As a result, potentially helpful microbial cells are killed along with the pathogen, altering the biodiversity and dynamic interactions within the population. Moreover, the unwarranted exposure of antibiotics to microbes increases the likelihood of developing resistance and perpetuates the emergence of multidrug resistance. Synthetic biology offers an alternative solution where specificity can be conferred to reduce the non-specific, non-targeted activity of currently available antibiotics, and instead provides targeted therapy against specific pathogens and minimising collateral damage to the host's inherent microbiota. With a greater understanding of the microbiome and the available genetic engineering tools for microbial cells, it is possible to devise antimicrobial strategies for novel antimicrobial therapy that are able to precisely and selectively remove infectious pathogens. Herein, we review the strategies developed by unlocking some of the natural mechanisms used by the microbes and how these may be utilised in targeted antimicrobial therapy, with the promise of reducing the current global bane of multidrug antimicrobial resistance.

Keywords: Antibiotic resistance; Antimicrobial peptide; Infectious pathogen; Live biotherapeutics; Microbiome; Phage engineering; Synthetic biology; Targeted therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Bacteriophages / metabolism
  • Communicable Diseases / diagnosis
  • Communicable Diseases / therapy
  • Fecal Microbiota Transplantation
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota
  • Phage Therapy
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Infective Agents