Amoeba anthrax study could lead to improved treatment

A recent study that found that a common soil/water amoeba could incubate anthrax bacteria could lead to improved treatment against the deadly biological organism.

Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine determined that Bacillus anthracis has the ability to invade the Acanthamoeba castellanii amoeba and multiply. While amoebae usually eat bacteria and kill them, the anthrax bacteria manipulates the amoebae to increase the bacteria's numbers, the Examiner reports.

The researchers said that anthrax requires two types of DNA molecules called plasmids for growth. When the researchers used an anthrax strain without plasmids, the bacteria was unable to generate additional spores in the amoebae. The information could enable scientists to determine which genes let anthrax reproduce in Acanthamoeba castellanii and other protozoa.

Determining more about the genome of anthrax could benefit areas of the world that must deal with the bacteria, especially in places where the anthrax vaccine is not available.

Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming Bacillus anthracis bacterium, which can survive in the environment for years in harsh conditions. In favorable conditions, the spores can germinate into bacterial colonies and may be ingested by grazing animals. The bacteria typically kill the animals, form spores in the carcasses and return to the soil for future infections, the Examiner reports.