Predatory prokaryotes: an emerging research opportunity

J Mol Microbiol Biotechnol. 2002 Sep;4(5):467-77.


Predatory prokaryotes have evolved a unique strategy of obtaining energy and biosynthetic materials from their surroundings: acquiring them from other living bacterial cells. These types of microbes have been found in a diverse variety of environments, and may play an important role in modulating microbial population structure and dynamics, as has been hypothesized for marine viruses and possibly protists. Only one genus of predatory bacterium, Bdellovibrio, has been extensively described and studied, though several other examples have been reported in the literature. In this review, the four basic strategies used by currently described predatory prokaryotes will be discussed: "wolfpack" group predation, epibiotic attachment, direct cytoplasmic invasion, and periplasmic invasion. Special adaptations to each approach will be considered, and compared overall to the genetic and biochemical characteristics of symbiotic or pathogenic prokaryotes living within eukaryotic cells. Two specific examples of predatory microbes, Bdellovibrio and Ensifer, will be described in terms of predation strategy, association with host cells, and host range. The prospects for bringing to bear the tools of molecular microbial genetics to the study of predatory prokaryotes will be explored, using current research with Bdellovibrio and Ensifer as examples.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Bdellovibrio / classification
  • Bdellovibrio / genetics
  • Bdellovibrio / physiology*
  • Chromatium / cytology
  • Chromatium / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Rhizobiaceae / physiology*
  • Symbiosis / physiology
  • Water Microbiology*