Anonim

Cannibal bacteria
Not only among men do we feed on our own kind.

A group of Bacillus subtilis. The green cells have killed the red ones and are feeding on them. © Science. Image by J. E. González-Pastor.
A group of Bacillus subtilis. The green cells have killed the red ones and are feeding on them.
© Science. Image by JE González-Pastor.

Aberrant behavior like cannibalism seemed exclusive to the human species and a few others. Now a group of Spanish and Spanish biologists have discovered that bacteria can even become cannibals, in times of extreme famine. In these moments, bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis usually take refuge in structures called spores, which are expensive to create in terms of energy. But some of these bacteria, in order to better produce the spores, attack their own kind producing a toxin similar to antibiotics and then feeding on their residues. The group of genes that produces the toxin also synthesizes some compounds that protect the bacteria themselves from the harmful compound.
By killing their own kind and feeding on them, the bacteria with these genes manage to stay alive slightly longer, often to reproduce, and if things go wrong, create spores more easily.

(News updated June 19, 2003)