Using Engineered Bacteria to Characterize Infection Dynamics and Antibiotic Effects In Vivo
Synthetic biology has focused on engineering microbes to synthesize useful products or to serve as living diagnostics and therapeutics. Here we utilize a host-derived Escherichia coli strain engineered with a genetic toggle switch as a research tool to examine in vivo replicative states in a mouse model of chronic infection, and to compare in vivo and in vitro bacterial behavior. In contrast to the effect of antibiotics in vitro, we find that the fraction of actively dividing bacteria remains relatively high throughout the course of a chronic infection in vivo and increases in response to antibiotics. Moreover, the presence of non-dividing bacteria in vivo does not necessarily lead to an antibiotic-tolerant infection, in contrast to expectations from in vitro experiments. These results demonstrate the utility of engineered bacteria for querying pathogen behavior in vivo, and the importance of validating in vitro studies of antibiotic effects with in vivo models.
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