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article imageStudy finds cannibalistic bacteria can wipe out superbugs

By Karen Graham     Nov 24, 2016 in Health
Scientists have discovered an unusual way to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Called a predatory or cannibal bacteria, Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus may be the answer to treating patients with superbugs.
A team of scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham published the results of their study in the journal Current Biology November 23, 2016.
In laboratory dish studies, it was found that after injecting zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae with an antibiotic-resistant strain of the human pathogen Shigella flexneri. a dose of Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus acted like a "living antibiotic" to help clear an otherwise lethal infection.
Zebrafish (Danio rerio)  an small tropical aquarium fish used in molecular genetics and medical rese...
Zebrafish (Danio rerio), an small tropical aquarium fish used in molecular genetics and medical research.
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The Huffington Post reports the cannibal bacteria dose caused the Shigella population to dwindle 4,000-fold, increasing the survival rate of the zebrafish by 60 percent. Without the dose of Bdellovibrio, the survival rate was only 25 percent.
“It is definitely a creative approach and what is special is the inability of the host to develop resistance,” Dr Serge Moswoty from Imperial told the BBC. “It’s an important milestone in research into the use of a living antibiotic that could be used in animals and humans.”
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Current Biology
Bdellovibrio is a predatory bacterium
Bdellovibrio is a genus of Gram-negative, obligate aerobic bacteria. This interesting bacterium is found in river water or soil, and one of their more notable characteristics is their ability to parasitize other Gram-negative bacteria, getting into their cell wall and devouring the proteins and nucleic acids.
After eating its bacterial host, the Bdellovibrio replicates and then bursts from the dead host's cell and is ready to devour more "rogue" bacteria. Bdellovibrio, first described in 1962, is also a very fast swimmer, capable of traveling over 100 times their length per second.
The scientists also found that their animal studies showed there were no side-effects from the treatment and the Bdellovibrio bacteria were cleared after a few days by the host's neutrophils and macrophages, leaving no ill effects.
The researchers believe their approach would be better for infected wounds, rather than systemic infections because the Bdellovibrio dose can be injected directly into the wound site. They also advise that far more safety testing needs to be done.
Dr Michael Chew, from the Wellcome Trust medical research body, said: "It may be unusual to use a bacterium to get rid of another, but in the light of the looming threat from drug-resistant infections the potential of beneficial bacteria-animal interactions should not be overlooked."
More about cannabal bacteria, antibacterial, antibioticresistant, Bdellovibrio, shigella
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