Scientists led by the pioneering Harvard synthetic biologist Pamela Silver, PhD, have harnessed the circadian mechanism found in cyanobacteria to transplant the circadian wiring into a common species of bacteria that is naturally non–circadian. The novel work, which for the first time demonstrates the transplant of a circadian rhythm, is reported in a new study in Science Advances.

“By looking at systems in nature as modular, we think like engineers to manipulate and use biological circuits in a predictable, programmable way,” Silver said in a release.

Silver’s team used this methodology to successfully transplant a circadian rhythm into the bacterial species E coli, which is widely used as a “workhorse” cell species by biologists due to how well it is understood and the ease in which E coli can be genetically altered. The genetically engineered circadian E coli designed by Silver could one day be used in probiotic pills as a way to monitor the gut microbiota.