New way to make bacteria glow could simplify TB screening
A new molecule that reveals active tuberculosis bacteria in coughed-up mucus and saliva could simplify TB diagnoses and speed up tests for detecting strains of the disease that are resistant to drugs.
This synthetic molecule is a modified version of a sugar that TB bacteria consume to help build their cell walls. The sugar is tagged with a dye that lights up under a fluorescent microscope — but only if the dye isn’t surrounded by water. Standard tests use dyes that stain a bunch of different bacteria, so technicians have to bleach the dye off everything except the TB cells, says Sumona Datta, a tuberculosis researcher at Imperial College London not involved in the work. But that chemical washing is time-consuming and prone to error. Since DMN-Tre only glows when it’s gobbled up by TB or one of its close relatives, the molecule could offer a simpler, more reliable diagnosis, she says.
The new TB screening technique may also have an edge in checking whether patients respond to treatment, says Eric Rubin, a microbiologist at Harvard University. Because the molecule only lights up when eaten by healthy, hungry TB bacteria, it won’t flag microbes that have been crippled or killed by antibiotics as typical tests do. It would be exciting to see how the researchers are able to transform the lab success into the commercial one.