Predatory bacteria can fight superbugs

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Predatory bacteria could be used to combat antibiotic-resisting superbugs, according to a new study published in Current Biology.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham used a predatory bacterium that feeds on other bacteria, Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, to kill samples of the Shigella bacteria that causes 160 million cases of food poisoning each year. The experiment showed that the population of Shigella in a laboratory dish decreased by 4,000 times its original size when the predatory bacteria was introduced.

The research team also tested the predatory bacteria as treatment for Shigella in Zebrafish larvae with positive results; while only twenty-five percent of larvae survived a Shigella infection after three days of no treatment, sixty percent of larvae that were given a dose of Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus survived the infection. There were no observed side effects in the treated Zebrafish, and scientists noted that the predatory bacteria worked with the fish’s immune system.

“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,” said  Dr Michael Chew from the Wellcome Trust medical research body.

Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus has been shown to kill many kinds of harmful bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella. Although there will need to be more safety testing before Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus is used on humans, researchers suggested that it may be useful for treating infected wounds because it can be easily injected into a specific area.

“We are increasingly relying on last-line antibiotics, and this innovative study demonstrates how predatory bacteria could be an important additional tool to drugs in the fight against resistance,” said Dr Chew.

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