Engineered bacteria detect tumor DNA

Science. 2023 Aug 11;381(6658):682-686. doi: 10.1126/science.adf3974. Epub 2023 Aug 10.


Synthetic biology has developed sophisticated cellular biosensors to detect and respond to human disease. However, biosensors have not yet been engineered to detect specific extracellular DNA sequences and mutations. Here, we engineered naturally competent Acinetobacter baylyi to detect donor DNA from the genomes of colorectal cancer (CRC) cells, organoids, and tumors. We characterized the functionality of the biosensors in vitro with coculture assays and then validated them in vivo with sensor bacteria delivered to mice harboring colorectal tumors. We observed horizontal gene transfer from the tumor to the sensor bacteria in our mouse model of CRC. This cellular assay for targeted, CRISPR-discriminated horizontal gene transfer (CATCH) enables the biodetection of specific cell-free DNA.

MeSH terms

  • Acinetobacter* / genetics
  • Animals
  • Bioengineering
  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids* / analysis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / genetics
  • DNA, Neoplasm* / analysis
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mutation


  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids

Supplementary concepts

  • Acinetobacter baylyi