News Article

News Article

This Deadly Parasitic Amoeba Literally Eats Your Guts Alive

up
13
This story is about dysentery, which in case you hadn't heard is a very, very nasty disease. But since we're pals, I'll spare you a graphic description of the symptoms (just Google “dysentery” if you're that curious, but remember, I warned you), and focus instead on the nasty little microorganism that causes it.
 
Killer_Amoeba1
Image: Katherine Ralston
 
Dysentery is mainly spread by a one-celled organism called Entamoeba histolytica, and reportedly kills over 100,000 people each year. One of the reasons it's been so hard for experts to trace the infection is the mysterious way the amoeba consumes the host body; in most cases, people with the illness show no outward symptoms. But that may have changed, thanks to a story in New Scientist: researchers have discovered that the amoebas have a particularly horrific way of attacking their host – they chew right into the walls of the intestine, ripping away living tissue and eating it while it's still alive. Until now, experts thought the amoebas killed the cells before consuming them.
 
Katherine Ralston and William Petri of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville made this gruesome discovery after using fluorescent dyes to track the progress of the parasites in the intestines of rats. "We saw that the amoeba ingested bites of the fluorescent membranes of the intestinal cells," Ralston reported in the journal Nature. "They are impressively ravenous."
 
Killer_Amoeba2
Image: Katherine Ralston
 
According to microbiologist Kris Chadee from University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, further research into this behavior may lead to new developments in medicine. “The parasite needs to attach to the cell to rip off little pieces,” Chadee says, “so if you could get blocking antibodies in the place where it attaches, that would be a potential target for drug development." I guess we should be optimistic, but it's still one hell of a creepy concept if you ask me.
 
 
Between this thing, the brain-eaters in our drinking water and the recent reanimation of a 30,000-year-old virus, I'm starting to suspect that the greatest threat to humanity is already inside us...
<none>