Campylobacter species, especially Campylobacter jejuni, are bacterial pathogens responsible for the majority of food poisoning in the UK. This bacteria is considered to cause over 280,000 cases of bacterial gastroenteritis annually. Although also found on red meat, unpasteurized milk and unfiltered water, 4 out of 5 cases of campylobacteriosis come from contaminated chickens. During the slaughter process the bacterium gets transferred onto the chicken skin and is often found on fresh retail chickens and their packaging. The most important transmission route is consumption of undercooked chicken or other foods that get cross-contaminated from raw poultry meat.
Current detection systems for the pathogen are time-consuming, expensive and inaccessible for everyday users. We therefore aimed to develop a new, cheaper and faster system for detection of C. jejuni using synthetic biology. We approached this by genetically engineering Escherichia coli to serve a function of a dual-input biosensor. The bacterium will sense bacterial quorum sensing signals and xylulose - a sugar naturally present in the outer capsule of Campylobacter jejuni, to detect the pathogen on a swabbed surface.