Nav: Home

Predatory bacteria: The quest for a new class of antibiotics

October 11, 2017

In 2016 the World Health Organization named antibiotic resistance as "one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today." The announcement cited a growing list of infections, such as tuberculosis and gonorrhea, that are becoming more difficult to treat each year as resistance to current antibiotic treatments increases. Yet antibiotics are essential--without them, the human race would be plagued by persistent infections. So what is the solution to ensuring continual treatment while also addressing the alarming rise in resistance?

One potential solution lies within a unique type of predatory bacteria that feeds on other bacteria, such as those that cause diseases. Dubbed "living antibiotics," this group of carnivorous fauna have caught researchers' attention, including those at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). In a recently published paper in ACS Synthetic Biology, OIST researchers have taken the first steps toward genetic manipulation of one such tiny cannibal, B. bacteriovorus. They have identified tools that may allow for the manipulation of genes that influence this bacteria's predatory behavior.

"In the future, we want to control the predation of the bacteria--the timing and extent of predation," explains Dr. Mohammed Dwidar from the Nucleic Acid Chemistry and Engineering Unit and first author on the paper. "[At the moment] we lack the basic engineering tools in order to do this."

B. bacteriovorus is harmless to humans yet lethal to its prey--Gram-negative bacteria--which includes baddies such as E. coli, Salmonella, Legionella, and others. As such, being able to control it could potentially treat many different types of infections. However, due to its unusual predatory nature and other unique features, genetic manipulation of B. bacteriovorus has been limited.

The OIST researchers used riboswitches, which are gene expression-controlling tools known to function well in other bacteria, to tackle the challenge of understanding and manipulating B. bacteriovorus's predation. The way in which a gene is expressed follows a specific pathway--DNA is converted into RNA via transcription, RNA is converted into proteins via translation, and then the proteins carry out different functions. The riboswitch comes in at the translation phase. By putting a riboswitch at the beginning of a strand of RNA, and then "activating" it with a chemical, the riboswitch can start or stop the RNA from being translated into a protein.

For their study, the OIST researchers inserted a riboswitch into one of the genes believed to be important to B. bacteriovorus's predatory behavior: flagellar sigma factor fliA. They then activated it with the chemical theophylline. After placing the modified bacteria in petri dishes together with some delicious E. coli prey, the modified B. bacteriovorus seemed to multiply more quickly in presence of theophylline than in its absence. This quicker multiplication implies that B. bacteriovorus was consuming its prey faster, and thus multiplying faster. This in turn shows that the predatory lifecycle can be controlled by theophylline.

In addition to the "living antibiotic" end-goal, there are many more potential uses for easily manipulatable B. bacteriovorus cells. "People want organic food without chemicals," Dr. Dwidar explains. "The predatory bacteria may be a potentially safe alternative to antibacterial agents for some plant diseases. We can also use it for industry, for example, in water treatment plants."

"In the future, you could spray these bacteria on fresh food to protect against food poisoning," Professor Yohei Yokobayashi, who was also involved in the research, adds.

With the OIST researchers' results in hand, the next step is to learn more about B. bacteriovorus and the tools that might be able to control its behavior in order to one day realize its full antibiotic potential.
-end-


Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University

Related Bacteria Articles:

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.
Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.
Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.
Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.
Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
Bacteria uses viral weapon against other bacteria
Bacterial cells use both a virus -- traditionally thought to be an enemy -- and a prehistoric viral protein to kill other bacteria that competes with it for food according to an international team of researchers who believe this has potential implications for future infectious disease treatment.
Drug diversity in bacteria
Bacteria produce a cocktail of various bioactive natural products in order to survive in hostile environments with competing (micro)organisms.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.