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Bram Stoker's Bacteria

It doesn't turn into a bat, but it can suck the life out of other organisms. In a new paper in BMC Genomics researchers published the sequence of the predatory bacterium Micavibrio aeruginosavorus, which they say could be used to develop a powerful antibiotic, reports Douglas Main at the 80beats blog.

This "vampire-like" microbe was identified decades ago in sewage water — it attacks other bacteria, attaches itself to them, and sucks them dry, Main says, adding that it could be used as a "living antibiotic." The bacterium can be grown in culture, but only if it has other bacteria to feed on. A 2006 study found that it eats three bacterial species that cause pneumonia in humans, and more recent studies show that it also eats bugs like E. coli. "The new study found that each phase of life involves the use (or expression) of different sets of genes," Main says. "The migratory/hunting phase involves many segments that code for flagellum formation and genes involved in quorum sensing. The attachment phase involves a wide variety of secreted chemicals and enzymes that facilitate the flow of materials from the host."

More research is needed to determine how the bug can be used in humans as a treatment. One worry is that as the number of microbes that Micavibrio aeruginosavorus eats grows, it could begin to go after beneficial gut bacteria, Main says. Researchers are considering the idea of genetically engineering the bug to go after a narrow range of pathogenic bacteria to limit the risks.