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Anthrax Bacteria Can Breed In Dirt, Be Even More Terrifying

You know what’s not scary enough? Anthrax. I don’t know when it was, but a disease that creates black ulcers on your skin and has the potential to make your innards basically fall right out of your body lost its capacity to inspire terror. The horrific disease and occasional means of spreading panic in government buildings could get a little bit of its groove back, though, with a new study showing that anthrax bacteria are capable of breeding  — and spreading — in soil, where the disease was once thought to lay dormant.

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Until now, researchers thought that bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, became dormant when it was in soil, only waking up when it entered a cow’s digestive system, where it found the cells necessary to reproduce itself. It turns out that anthrax doesn’t need your pitiful cows to breed, though, it can get along just fine murdering amoebas and using them as incubators for — you guessed it — more anthrax bacteria.

A University of Virginia team is responsible for the discovery, which shows that anthrax breeds inside Acanthamoeba castellanii, one of the most common soil and water amoebas. Placed in sterile water, the spores that anthrax bacteria call home in their dormant state were undisturbed. However, when Acanthamoeba castellanii were introduced to the water, anthrax spores germinated and their population exploded, increasing to 50 times the number of bacteria initially present. When the temperature was raised in the dish, the population rose to 100 times where it began.

In the wild, these numbers would turn healthy streams into cow death mills when livestock drank from them. Hopefully, though understanding this process could be the first step toward learning how to disrupt it. After all, to discover how to make something weaker — which I think we’d all like to do with anthrax — you have to figure out why it’s so strong in the first place.

(via PhysOrg)

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