Developments in genetics are now making it possible to invite custom-engineered symbiotic creatures into our bodies to help perform the functions we can't. In two separate developments, scientists have created a strain of bacteria that stimulates insulin production in the stomach of diabetic mice, and a different strain that produces a protein that treats the stomach disease colitis. This is the first time genetically engineered bacteria have been used directly as therapeutic agents.
For the insulin-producing bacteria, scientists at Cornell University created a strain of benign E. coli that would produce a protein called GLP-1. GLP-1 then triggers the production of insulin in the stomach cells of the diabetic mice. Within 80 days of ingesting the bacteria, the formerly diabetic mice showed normal levels of glucose in their blood. The researchers now aim to grow the bacteria in a yogurt, thus replacing insulin shots with a tasty snack or breakfast food.