Golden death bacteria digests roundworms from the inside out, researchers find

June 17, 2019

A team from Glasgow University has discovered a new species of bacterial pathogen that could help veterinary teams treat nematode infestation in animals.

Despite its catchy nickname, the “golden death” bacteria isn't about to wreak havoc on the population of a specific beloved dog breed.

Instead, it shows promise to help prevent illness in veterinary patients. This newly discovered species of bacterial pathogen, Chryseobacterium nematophagum, has shown to be fatal to nematodes in a laboratory setting.

In a study published recently in the journal BMC Biology, researchers collected rotting food from around the world and tested for bacteria. They discovered C. nematophagum in a rotten apple from France and a rotten fig from India, and found that it successfully killed the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. None of the other food collected contained this bacterial strain.

During testing, the C. elegans worms ingested the C. nematophagum bacteria, and in the next three to four hours, 50% of the roundworm population died. After seven hours, the entire population of C. elegans was dead, and after 48 hours, “only outline traces of the larvae, representing the undigested cuticles,” were visible to investigators, according to the study.

The “golden death” bacteria were then introduced to other parasitic nematodes, including trichostrongylid and strongylid pathogens found in livestock and domesticated animals. Researchers presented C. nematophagum to the eggs and larvae of these nematodes (including Trichostrongylus vitrinus and Teladorsagia circumcincta), and 24 hours later, 100% of the nematodes were dead.

The colorful nickname is derived from the fact that bacteria belonging to the Chryseobacterium genus is also called “golden” bacteria. This genus grows on solid media to produce mucoid colonies that are golden in color (and apparently stink). The “death” part of the nickname presumably comes from the fact that C. nematophagum is so effective at killing nematodes.

Researchers indicate that this bacteria could have future benefits to veterinary medicine, stating, “This pathogenicity raises the possibility that C. nematophagum, or indeed its isolated virulence factors, could provide a future novel means of controlling these increasingly problematic parasites of grazing livestock.”