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Surprising Science

Bacteria Improve Accuracy of MRI Scans

The remarkable magnetic properties of certain types of bacteria improve MRI scans by enhancing the appearance of unwanted structures in the body, like tumors and cancers.

What’s the Latest Development?

Magnetic bacteria improve the detection of harmful structures in the body, like tumors and cancers, during MRI scans. Some bacteria naturally display magnetic properties which they use to align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field (scientists believe it helps them find food in their murky, underwater habitats). When scientists injected these bacteria into mice with tumors, MRI scans (which use heavy magnetic fields) detected the tumors more easily because the bacteria highlighted their presence. 

What’s the Big Idea?

While these bacteria are not yet ready to be injected into humans, they are showing new ways in which nature can augment humanity’s technological advances: “In addition to trying to coax the bacteria to produce their magnetic crystals in the lab for applications in nanotechnology, a number of possible avenues in medicine have been proposed. One suggestion is to use them to deliver drugs to specific targets in the body, guided by external magnetic fields.”

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