Bacillus sphaericus
Rick Mikale

In no way does Bacillus sphaericus fit the description of being a unique microorganism.  Its physical characteristics are simple, a rod-shaped, Gram-positive, spore forming bacteria, just like a million other bacteria.  So why on earth would I pick a common Joe of the bacteria world as my microbe of the week?   Could it be the rich history of this microorganism?,  or the diversity of uses for its various strain?, or was it simply the first organism I found the night before the oral was do?   For safety’s sake lets stick to one and two.

Many organisms have stood the test of time, but few have done it genetically in tact.  When Dr. Raul Cano acquired a chunk of amber with a ancient bee trapped inside I’m sure visions of a Michael Crichton novel flashed into his head.  But Dr. Cano was not trying to bring dinosaurs back to life, he had his mind set on something a little smaller.  From the abdomen on the ancient bee, Dr. Cano was able to extract spores, which he was able to grow in culture.  What he found he could have probably predicted B. sphaericus.  Like Escherichia coli in our intestinal flora, B. sphaericus is important for a bee’s digestion and immune system.   These particular strains (dubbed BCA 16) however were slightly different from the common strain found in bees today, different by about 135 million years.  Cano’s announcement of his findings coincided with another announcement, the release of Steven Spielberg’s film “Jurassic Park.”


A picture of the bee Cano extracted the 135 million-year-old spores from


A photo of the vegetative form of the bacteria found in the bee’s abdomen

A use for the bacteria was not known at the time so a company called Ambergene was founded strictly to find a use for the new microbes found.

Not all of the strains of B. sphaericus like to play nice with insects.  While some strains help a bee digest its daily share of whatever the heck bees eat, some strains are destructive to parts of the insect world.  Strain 2362 may sound obscure but it is well known in the world of biotechnology.  Like its distant cousin, Bacillus thuringensis, Strain 2362 produces a 100 kDA protein that acts as a larvicidal toxin.  This toxin is highly effective against the larva of the Wyeomyia mosquitoes, drastically reducing their population.  This makes B. sphaericus a very popular critter with pesticide companies interested in putting the words “All Natural” on their bottles to increase sales.


Wyeomyia mosquito larval that is killed by protein produced by B. sphaericus
 
 References

Cal Poly Microbiologist Cano Brings Ancient Bacteria to Life.

Optimization and control of biopesticide production by microogranisms.

“Jurassic Park” Bacterium!

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD?, J.Madeleine Nash, SCIENCE, May 29,1995 Volume 145, No. 22

*Disclaimer - This report was written by a student participaring in a microbiology course at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The accuracy of the contents of this report is not guaranteed and it is recommended that you seek additional sources of information to verify the contents.

 

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