This Amoeba Eats Human Intestines, Cell by Cell

It might look positively adorable in this image, but don't be fooled: this pathogen, known as Entamoeba histolytica, eats human intestines alive, cell by cell.

The amoeba—about the tenth of a size of a dust mite—infects 50 million people worldwide and kills as many as 100,000 each year. But new research has revealed why it's so deadly: it eats the cells of your intestine, slowly but surely, piece by piece.

To work that out, the researchers used new live microscopy techniques, which enable them to capture video of cells in action. What they saw shocked them, as Katherine Ralston of the University of Virginia explains to Science:

"It was remarkable to see the amoebae were taking bites. A little bit of nibbling caused more nibbling, and this was happening while the human cells were alive... If we could understand how the amoeba takes a bite, that would be a good target for therapeutic drugs."

And that is indeed the next step. The team are now working out how they could use the insight to develop new drugs to treat E. histolytica. [Nature via Science]

Image by Katherine Ralston