Fighting superbug bacteria with other bacteria

Want to save 10 million people? Find a solution to superbugs.

… If things keep going as they are, antibiotic-resistant superbugs are expected to kill 10 million people by 2050, and so far, we have no solution. But researchers have found that we could actually fight fire with fire – a predatory bacterium has been shown to kill antibiotic-resistant bugs.

The bacterium in question is called Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, and it’s known as a predatory bacterium, because it seeks out and consumes its own kind.

A team from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham in the UK decided to pit it against an antibiotic-resistant strain of the human pathogen Shigella flexneri – a common cause of food poisoning.

Shigella bacteria are responsible for making 160 million people sick each year (diarrhoea is its speciality), and more than 1 million people die each year from infection, mostly because of contaminated food.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent Shigella infection, and in many cases, antibiotics will not help – most patients are told to just wait it out until the infection resolves itself in five to seven days.

It’s a formidable foe – but not for Bdellovibrio, it seems. 

When the researchers combined the two types of bacteria in the lab, Bdellovibrio caused the population of antibiotic-resistant Shigella to decline 4,000-fold. 

Next they infected live zebrafish larvae with Shigella, and gave them a shot of Bdellovibrio. Rates of survival for the larvae were around 60 percent.

For the control group that didn’t get a shot of Bdellovibrio, only 25 percent of them lived long enough to reach the third day of infection.

The bacteria are so effective because they eat the Shigella bacteria from the inside out, growing large and swollen before bursting out of their dead host’s shell.

So far, the researchers have found no evidence of unwanted side effects from infecting the larvae with Bdellovibrio, and the same could be true for us, James Gallagher reports for the BBC, because previous research has found Bdellovibrio bacteria occurring naturally in healthy humans. … the researchers say this is a promising sign that the answer to the antibiotic resistance crisis could be the very thing we’re trying to fight.

“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.”

Exciting idea: Genetically modify Bdellovibrio to eat the Lyme disease causing bacteria without hurting the host.

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