New Approach in the War against Disease-causing Bacteria: Cannibalism

Research suggests that bacteria that naturally prey on other bacteria may hold promise in the fight to eradicate antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

Research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology suggests that utilizing biological-based agents such as so-called “predatory bacteria” may hold promise for eradicating multidrug-resistant bacteria.

In the article “Predation of Human Pathogens by the Predatory Bacteria Micavibrio aeruginosavorus and Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus," Daniel Kadouri, PhD, and colleagues reported on their studies of cultures of the bacteriab Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus and Micavibrio aeruginosavorus mixed with pathogens from the genus Acinetobacter, Aeromonas, Bordetella, Burkholderia, Citrobacter, Enterobacter, Escherichia, Klebsiella, Listonella, Morganella, Proteus, Pseudomonas, Salmonella, Serratia, Shigella, Vibrio and Yersinia. They found that these two strains “have an ability to prey and reduce many of the multidrug-resistant pathogens associated with human infection.”

In a news release from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Kadouri, an assistant professor of oral biology at New Jersey Dental School, said that the two bacteria used in this study “actually have to consume other bacteria in order to complete their life cycles… They have a great ability to seek out other bacteria, invade them, grow in or on them, and kill them.”

During the study, Kadouri’s team observed that M. aeruginosavorus reduced the population of 57 of 89 bacteria strains that were examined; B. bacteriovorus reduced 68 out of 83 bacteria tested. Among the potentially clinically relevant findings from the study, the authors noted that the bacteria effectively attacked “Klebsiella pneumoniae, a cause of lung infection; Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can be fatal for patients suffering from the lung disorder cystic fibrosis; and cinetobacter, which in its drug-resistant form can produce extremely hard-to-treat infections in wounds.”

Commenting on these results, the authors wrote that “infectious complications caused by micro-organisms that have become resistant to drug therapy are an increasing problem in medicine, with more infections becoming difficult to treat using traditional antimicrobial agents. The work presented here highlights the potential use of predatory bacteria as a biological-based agent for eradicating multidrug-resistant bacteria, with the hope of paving the way for future studies in animal models.”

The fact that these results were produced in the lab was also noted in the UMDNJ news release, which said that it is unknown currently whether predator bacteria “can have the same effect on harmful microbes inside the human body as they do in the lab. It is possible that the human immune system would neutralize these bacteria before they could do their beneficial work. But if that problem can be avoided, or solved, Kadouri is confident that a new disease-fighting tool may one day be put into use.”

In the video below, Kadouri discusses this research and the potential implications it may have in the fight against drug-resistant infection.