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Vampire Bacteria Could Serve As A Living Antibiotic

Wed, 11/02/2011 - 7:10am

A vampire-like bacteria that leeches onto specific other bacteria – including certain human pathogens – has the potential to serve as a living antibiotic for a range of infectious diseases, a new study indicates. The bacterium, Micavibrio Aeruginosavorus, was discovered to inhabit wastewater nearly 30 years ago, but has not been extensively studied because it is difficult to culture and investigate using traditional microbiology techniques. However, in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, Martin Wu and graduate student Zhang Wang have decoded its genome. The bacterium seeks out prey – certain other bacteria – and then attaches itself to its victim's cell wall to essentially suck out nutrients. Unlike most other bacteria, which draw nutrients from their surroundings, M. aeruginosavorus can survive and propagate only by drawing its nutrition from specific prey bacteria. This kills the prey – making it a potentially powerful agent for destroying pathogens. One bacterium it targets is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is a chief cause of serious lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. Wu's study, detailing the DNA sequence of M. aeruginosavorus, is published online in the journal BMC Genomics. It provides new insights to the predatory lifestyle of the bacterium and a better understanding of the evolution of bacterial predation in general. Because M. aeruginosavorus is so selective a feeder, it is harmless to the thousands of beneficial bacteria that dwell in the general environment and in the human body. Another benefit of the bacterium is its ability to swim through viscous fluids, such as mucus. P. aeruginosa, the bacterium that colonizes the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, creates a glue-like biofilm, enhancing its resistance to traditional antibiotics. Wu noted that the living cells of M. aeruginosavorus can swim through mucus and biofilm and attack P. aeruginosa. M. aeruginosavorus also might have industrial uses, such as reducing bacteria that form biofilms in piping, and for medical devices, such as implants that are susceptible to the formation of biofilms. Wu said M. aeruginosavorus requires further study for a more thorough understanding of its gene functions and that genetic engineering would be required to tailor the predatory attributes of the bacterium to specific uses in the treatment of disease.

Wu and Wang's co-author is Daniel E. Kadouri, a researcher at the New Jersey Dental School. Kadouri is interested in M. aeruginosavorus as an agent for fighting oral biofilms, such as plaque.

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