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The not-so-big, bad Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus

Life cycle of the predatory bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus (yellow). For reproduction it depends on a bacterial prey cell (blue). Image courtesy of Stephan C. Schuster, Snjezana Rendulic and Jürgen Berger.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

If you were a bacterium, you wouldn't want to meet Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus in a dark alley. This bacterial bug has an unusual way of preying on other bacteria -- it squeezes itself inside its prey and sucks up their guts.

Snjezana Rendulic of the Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, and her colleagues in Germany and the United Kingdom have sequenced the genome of B. bacteriovorus. Identifying the bacterium's genes and the jobs they do helped the researchers understand how the bacterium does its nasty work on its prey.

When B. bacteriovorus invades another cell, it goes through a full life-cycle. After it reproduces, the offspring burst out of the cell and set off to find more unlucky bacteria to invade.

When it finds its prey B. bacteriovorus attaches itself to the host cell wall, punctures it and works its way inside. There, it uses a variety of enzymes to break down the cell's contents and digest them, putting together its own molecules from the component parts. After B. bacteriovorus replicates, the offspring secrete more enzymes that break down the host cell wall, allowing the new bacteria to escape.

These enzymes may be useful ingredients for other types of antimicrobial substances. The authors also propose that it might even be possible to somehow use B. bacteriovorus as a sort of "living antibiotic," since it doesn't seem to harm any organisms besides other bacteria.

This study will appear in the 30 January 2004 issue of the journal Science.


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