Viral detectors for E. coli O157

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S. Sandhu, Pacheco-Gomez, R. Rodger, A.,Hicks, M. R. Dafforn, T. R.

University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

Bacteriophage M13 has become one of the leading nano-particle chassis in synthetic biology. The shape, ruggedness and genetic flexibility make it ideal for cycles of design and test required to reliably develop nano devices. In this work we explore a unique application of M13 in pathogen detection. Detection and identification of pathogens remains a major challenge for science. Over the last 100 years a large number of different approaches have been trialled to provide a detection system that is rapid and specific while remaining cheap, simple and generic. The relative lack of progress towards this goal can be gauged from the continued reliance of clinical microbiology laboratories on microbial culture methods to detect and identify pathogens. In the study presented here we show the utility of a completely new approach to pathogen detection based on an engineer M13 bacteriophage. We have taken the hydrodynamic behaviour of the filamentous virus, M13 as inspiration for this new approach. The exquisite (semi liquid crystalline) structure of this virus endows it with exceptional rigidity compared to other biological filaments of similar dimensions. We have exploited this alignment and combined it with a novel form of spectroscopy, linear dichroism, that specifically probes systems with high levels of alignment. By selectively modifying the structure of the bacteriophage to add additional functionalities (e.g. pathogen binding) we have generated a reagent that forms the basis of a rapid simple test for the human pathogen E. coli O157 (See for a description of the method). Our goal for the future is to extend the application of this approach to a wider range of targets using ever more advanced M13 particles.