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Patterned evolution: Bacteria labeled with a green fluorescent protein were placed on the chip. As they evolved greater resistance to the antibiotic, they colonized outward, toward increasing concentrations of antibiotic and nutrient, in distinct patterns.

The chip has other potential applications as well. It might be used to improve strains of beneficial bacteria that degrade pollutants. Cancer research could likely make use of it too. Tumor cells can develop rapid resistance to chemotherapy, much as bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. “The mechanism they’ve identified may also be a mechanism of change in cancer, and it could lead to tests to identify resistance before you even start administering drugs,” says Anna Barker, director of Arizona State University’s Transformative Healthcare Networks, who specializes in complex systems like cancer.

Cancer is indeed where Austin is headed next: he is already adapting his death galaxy for cancer cells. “Breast cancer and multiple myeloma are both existing in complex microenvironments,” he says, “and my hope is that they might be most susceptible to my approach.”

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Credits: Robert Austin and Quicen Zhang

Tagged: Biomedicine, bacteria, microfluidics, antibiotic resistance

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