Tiny parasite could solve wastewater problem

Scientists from La Trobe University in Melbourne have discovered a tiny parasite that can kill the bacteria responsible for causing costly and hazardous problems in wastewater treatment plants.

Treatment plants are often plagued by foam created by certain bacteria, explains lead researcher Steve Petrovski, a molecular biologist at La Trobe.

“One particular bacterium – Gordonia amarae – is notorious for causing persistent and stable foams in wastewater treatment plants,” he says. “This foam reduces the quality of effluent and creates a hazardous work environment at the plant.

“It costs the industry billions of dollars each year and makes the plants inefficient, yet there are no effective ways to control these foams.”

In a study published in Nature Microbiology, the team set out to identify a bacteriophage (a type of virus) capable of infecting and killing G. amarae. By sequencing G. amarae’s genome, they could identify some genetic defence mechanisms that explain why it’s so difficult to fight using bacteriophages.

But instead, the team stumbled across a different solution when they discovered a previously unknown microscopic parasite.

“The microparasite, which we have named Mycosynbacter amalyticus, latches onto G. amarae and in fact kills it,” says Petrovski. “This may represent a promising biocontrol strategy to prevent wastewater foaming.”

Further lab research will help scientists determine how effectively this microparasite can suppress G. amarae over time, and ultimately determine its potential as a biocontrol.

In addition, M. amalyticus may hold promise for combating diseases in humans and animals caused by G. amarae, including nocardiosis and bacteremia.

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