Engineering the microbiome

Programming a Human Commensal Bacterium to Sense and Respond to Stimuli in the Murine Gut Microbiota

Like Comment

Several parallel lines of evidence show that differences in gut microbiota associate with different host phenotypes and disease states. In cases where causality could be established a question emerges whether members or composition of the gut microbiome could be modulated or engineered to affect the host phenotype in a desired direction. But this is just one way in which the gut microbiome could also be engineered.

New work from Christopher Voigt and Tim Lu now provides a tool kit with which a human commensal bacterium - Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron – can be engineered.

There is a lovely description of this work in the NIH Director’s Blog ( . It eloquently describes how Voigt and Lu, and colleagues used CRISPR/Cas9 system to insert specially designed genetic circuits into this common human gut bacterium. The idea is that these bacteria are modified to sense specific molecules present in the water or food injected by their host (in this case it was mice).

This is very exciting work. I met Tim Wu in person at the Keystone on Genome Engineering and Synthetic Biology In January this year, where we talked about future prospects of using gut commensals to monitor wellness and disease states alike.

Programming a Human Commensal Bacterium, Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, to Sense and Respond to Stimuli in the Murine Gut Microbiota

Cell Systems


Magdalena Skipper

Editor in Chief, Nature, Nature Research, Springer Nature

I am a geneticist by training. Having done research using classical genetics and molecular biology in a variety of model organisms I left the bench to become an editor, first for Nature Reviews Genetics and then Nature. I have worked with the research community as an editor, in a variety of roles, for over 17 years