Amoeba to the rescue

Marcin Filutowicz, Professor
Department of Bacteriology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

(608) 262-6947

They say amoeba are better than maggots for keeping an infection cleaned up. But never mind that. Marcin Filutowicz explains how these microbes are being harnessed to protect crops, animals and humans.

3:10 – Total Time

0:17 – Amoeba enjoy eating bacteria
0:53 – New crop protections discovered
1:08 – How the amoeba protects apples
1:22 – How amoeba is applied to orchard
1:35 – Future of amoeba research
2:25 – Safety and benefit of biological controls
2:59 – Lead out


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Sevie Kenyon: Marcin, welcome to my microphone. What do you have in your lab that you’ve worked on?

Marcin Filutowicz: It involves organism that is called amoeba. Amoeba is not bacterium, not fungus, and as far as we can tell the only function of this organism is to eat bacteria. They do eat bacteria, and they enjoy eating bacteria pretty much indiscriminately and we would like to dig into this large collection of amoeba that lives in soil and reprogram them to kill bacteria that cause disease: in humans, in plants and in animals.

Sevie Kenyon: What new things have you discovered in your lab?

Marcin Filutowicz: Our new discovery involves soil-born amoeba that kills pathogen of apples, so called fire blight, which causes huge loss in crops in Wisconsin.

Sevie Kenyon: How does this amoeba work?

Marcin Filutowicz: Amoeba just gets into the plant, senses chemicals—the bacterial pathogen—secretes in the form of ooze, and attacks bacteria and ingests them.

Sevie Kenyon: How would this be applied in an apple orchard?

Marcin Filutowicz: We work with colleagues on the ways of packaging amoebas into bio-compatible gels that will be deliverable.

Sevie Kenyon: Marcin, I’d like you to look into the future. Look into your crystal ball.

Marcin Filutowicz: So I envision deploying microorganisms beneficial bacterial amoeba at non-sterile paths of human or animal bodies, for example in burn patients. Patients that have difficulty healing their wounds that are inflicted by high temperature. They say that microorganisms developed a language of communicating or alerting other microbes of their presence. And the letter of this language, once deciphered, will allow us to recruit good organisms—harness good organisms—and kill those that do harm to our bodies. The basic science, the role of basic science, is to decode this language.

Sevie Kenyon: Marcin, are these practices safe?

Marcin Filutowicz: There are many bacteria right now, which are resistant to all clinically relevant antibiotics. This is why microbiologists need to think about multiple strategies in targeting undesired microbes. There is no simple answer. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria. There are good amoeba and terrible amoeba. So, depending on the type of organism, and depending on the type of engineering that you are willing to do, we can deploy them safely in some situations, but not in others.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Marcin Filutowicz, Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin and I’m Sevie Kenyon.


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