Gates Grant Funds E. coli Probiotic Research
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences research scientist Haiqing Sheng won a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to adapt a novel new genetics technology to produce probiotics to combat enteropathogenic E. coli bacteria or EPEC that kill hundreds of thousands of children worldwide each year.
Sheng, who works for School of Food Science faculty members Carolyn Hovde Bohach and Scott A. Minnich, received the one-year, $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation for his project, "CRISPR-Cas9 directed bacteriophage treatment of EPEC diarrhea."
The School of Food Science is operated jointly by the University of Idaho CALS and Washington State University.
The enteropathogenic E. coli bacteria are responsible for more than 30 percent of infant diarrhea cases in South Africa, Kenya, Bangladesh, Brazil and Mexico.
Sheng's research will use the newly developed genetic technology CRISPR-Cas9, which is the acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and CRISPR-associated protein.
The technology capitalizes on CRISPR, a bacterial gene, that recognizes an invading virus and cleaves it into pieces that then are used to develop a rudimentary immune system.
The CRISPR-Cas9 research will attempt to develop a bacteriophage, a virus that specifically targets the disease-causing E. coli, in probiotics that can be given to children in developing countries.
A parallel strategy will be using probiotics to deliver equipping beneficial strains of E. coli with the capability to fight off the disease-causing strains.
One key advantage of using the probiotic approach will be that the children's digestive tracts will not suffer the disruptions that antibiotics can often cause, killing both beneficial and disease — causing bacteria.
Sheng's funding is from the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations http://gcgh.grandchallenges.org/about initiative Round 15. His proposal, which was limited to a two-page online submission by the Foundation's rules, was one of about 60 funded from among 1,800 submitted.
Hui Shi, a visiting scientist from China’s Chutian College Huazhong Aricultural University, worked with Sheng on the bacteriophage isolation part of the project.