November 1, 2011 3 Comments
Researchers at the University of Virginia have decoded the genome of a type of bacteria, Micavibrio aeruginosavorus, that can survive by attaching to another bacterium and “essentially” sucking out its nutrients, killing its prey in the process. If it can be made to target the right pathogenic bacteria in our bodies, this could be used as an antibiotic in the future.
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…
The bacterium “makes its living” by seeking out prey – certain other bacteria – and then attaching itself to its victim’s cell wall and essentially sucking 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…
Additionally, 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.
This is a pretty interesting idea to me. One would hope that we could engineer M. aeruginosavorus to hunt down very specific pathogenic bacteria, but there’s definitely a potential danger of accidentally killing beneficial bacteria in our bodies and producing nasty side effects. They don’t say at all how M. aeruginosavorus works, but another potential issue is that some individual bacteria will be resistant to its attack, and bacteria populations will develop resistance to it just like any other drug.
In any case, the more potential pathogen-killers the merrier, so I’m interested to see where this research goes in the future.
Edit: PhysOrg accidentally called Pseudomonas aeruginosa “Pseudomonas aeruginosavorus“, seemingly mixing it up with M. aeruginosavorus, so I edited the quote above for accuracy. Many thanks to johan for pointing that out.