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E. coli survives predatory bacteria by playing hide and seek

The majority of disease-causing bacteria in the body are rendered harmless by the protective effects of the immune system. Those that manage to escape the immune system can be killed by antibiotics, but bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to more and more antibiotics.

Meet Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, a bacterial predator that is an efficient killer of Gram-negative bacteria, such as the prevalent E. coli bacterium. It is present in soil and, just like E. coli, it can also be found in the human gut, where a complex ecosystem of bacterial inhabitants exists.

This ferocious bacterial predator enters its prey and devours it from the inside while dividing into four or six progenies. It then bursts open its prey and starts its hunt for the next. B. bacteriovorus is a formidable opponent: It is not only an efficient killer, but it is also extremely fast. Although the bacterium itself is hardly one micrometer long, it can reach speeds of 160 micrometers per second, making it the “world champion” in speed swimming and ten times faster than the E. coli.

“Knowledge of defense and attack mechanisms in bacteria is crucial for future development of potential alternatives to antibiotics,” explains Dr. Daniel Koster, from the department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“B. bacteriovorus kills bacteria by a whole different mechanism of action than classical antibiotics, and as such, predatory bacteria might in the future constitute a viable alternative to these antibiotics,” Koster says.

Predator bacteria Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus enters its prey E. coli
Predator bacteria Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus (in yellow) enters its prey E. coli (in blue)
Image Credit: Felix Hol