How 'predatory bacteria' can help fight antibiotic resistance

Researchers are exploring how germ-eating microbes can be used to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, NPR reports.

Microbes that eat microbes are found in nearly every ecosystem on earth, said Brad Ringeisen, PhD, deputy director of the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The agency is funding research to determine whether these predatory bacteria can be used to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Lab studies the agency funded indicate predatory bacteria can attack tuberculosis, the plague and deadly antibiotic-resistant germs.

The researchers looked at Bdellovibrio, a bacterium that can attack common germs six times its size.

"Bdellovibrio ended up preying upon 145 of the 168 human pathogens we tested, which is pretty remarkable," Dr. Ringeisen said.

The Bdellovibrio latches onto its prey with multiple mechanisms, and germs don't seem to develop resistance to it.

But predatory bacteria is not likely to become a replacement for antibiotics, said Liz Sockett, PhD, a professor of bacterial genetics at Nottingham University in the U.K. If physicians gave patients  large doses of this bacteria, they would develop an immune response to it that would halt future treatment attempts.

But the strategy could help if given as a one-off preventive before an expected germ warfare attack or could work in a patient with an infection that doesn't respond to antibiotics, microbial geneticist Nancy Connell, PhD, told NPR.

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