Overview

AmebaGone Inc. is developing proprietary technologies that use a novel biocontrol method to destroy intractable bacterial infections, including those that can be dormant for decades. Organisms that propagate on bacteria (e.g. viruses, also known as phages) or feed on bacteria (e.g., phagocytes) have developed many means to access their prey. Although bacteria have experienced predation since the dawn of eukaryotic life, there has been no attempt to harness the predatory nature of benign, free-living phagocytic cells to use them commercially.

AmebaGone uses naturally occurring free-living phagocytic dictyostelid cells (”Dicty”) and their secreted products to destroy harmful bacteria. Benign and nonpathogenic Dicty have evolved for more than 600 million years in soil and other environments worldwide.  Dicty feed upon bacteria (and some fungi) in ways similar to the action of phagocytic cells in the human immune system (e.g. macrophages and neutrophils). The phagocytic cells chase, engulf, and digest bacteria that have invaded the host. A limitation of human phagocytotic immune cells, however, is that they cannot digest bacterial biofilms. Some Dicty have no such limitations and actively feed on biofilms.


Technology

AmebaGone uses naturally occurring amoebae as drugs and disinfectants in agriculture, medicine and industry. Amoebae kill bacteria, antibiotic-resistant or not, by consuming them as their food source. Bacteria growing on surfaces create biofilms, which are resistant to antimicrobial treatments. These biofilms pose a significant problem in medicine, agriculture, and food safety. This video shows the breakdown of an E. amylovora biofilm by a dicty strain.

Biofilm Menace

AmebaGone owns issued patents that broadly cover the use of Dicty to eat free-living, biofilm-enmeshed and persister bacteria. Biofilms are heterogeneous assemblages of microorganisms attached to natural or man-made surfaces. Enmeshed in an extracellular matrix of polymeric substances, these often complex and interactive communal assemblages help protect resident cells from chemical antibacterial agents and phagocytic immune defenses. Many, if not most, species of pathogenic bacteria are capable of forming biofilms. Biofilms pose significant problems for agriculture, medicine, and industry because conventional antimicrobials and disinfectants have little to no effect against them. Biofilms and dormant persister cells are tolerant to antibiotics and are largely responsible for recalcitrance of chronic infections and contaminations.   

Applications

Apples
Dicty are natural predators of bacteria, including Erwinia amylovora, the causative agent of Fire Blight, an agricultural disease that plagues apple and pear trees around the world. Significantly, greater than 90% of the world’s antibiotic use in agriculture are used primarily to control Fire Blight disease. The organic industry in particular is at risk because there are no good alternatives to antibiotics to control the disease. A pressing issue driving the need for an alternative to current treatments is the ban on use of clinically significant antibiotics on organic apples and pears effective in 2014. The ban creates a significant market opportunity for effective alternatives to treat this destructive disease. In addition to E. amylovora, there are many other highly destructive bacterial plant pathogens that cause significant economic losses. The general approach is extensible to treating many agricultural infections and contamination by other species of bacterial pathogens (e.g., Clavibacter michiganensis, Pseudomonas sp., Erwinia sp.) and as general anti-microbials in many use cases.  

 
Potatoes
Potatoes are the fourth most consumed crop in the world, after rice, wheat, and corn. In 2016 alone, 44B pounds of potatoes were produced in the USA with a production value of $3.9B. The problem:  each year, 22% of the total potato crop is lost to disease. In 2016, 2.65 billion pounds of potatoes produced in the US were compromised due to potato diseases and shrinkage. A major contributor to this loss is bacterial soft rot. Currently, there is no effective treatment for the disease once soft rot bacteria have infected plant tissue. According to the data from the USDA, the cost of potato loss in the US alone likely exceeded $230M in 2016, devastating growers, distributors, and facilities that store potatoes.

The solution: AmebaGone will develop a product to prevent soft rot of potato tubers during storage. Our approach utilizes microscopic predators called Dictyostelids, or "Dicty," which 'eat' bacteria. Acting independently, Dicty amoebae are single cells that seek out, engulf, and digest bacterial cells one by one until they are gone. Dicty amoebae can even feed on bacteria resistant to antibiotics or other conventional treatments, and bacteria protected within biofilms - structures built by bacteria to protect themselves from environmental assaults. Therefore, AmebaGone will identify specific strains of Dicty that most robustly consume bacteria that cause soft rot (Dickeya spp. and Pectobacterium spp.) and test their ability to prevent soft rot symptoms in potato tubers. This research will culminate in the first-ever treatment registered to prevent soft rot in any industry.


Future potential applications include:

  • Protection of food-processing equipment and food itself from Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes
  • Sterilization of medical devices (protection against Staphylococcus epidermidis)
  • Treatment of diabetic ulcers and other wounds (from Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus including MRSA)