Improving Health & Medicine

Amoeba Buddy System

One of the hallmarks of the Weizmann Institute is the focus on interdisciplinary research. In this case, a chance conversation between biochemist Prof. David Mirelman and physicist Prof. Elisha Moses ​led to the realization that they were working on two sides of the same coin when it came to amoeba cooperation and communication. Amoebae live in our mouths and digestive systems, and their relatives cause diseases worldwide – diseases such as dysentery that often result from polluted water. One of the reasons amoebae are so dangerous is that they don’t need a partner in order to divide.

The two professors combined their expertise to study how, exactly, amoebae reproduce. Experiments often run 24 hours a day, and during an overnight shift, a doctoral student manning the lab recorded something that had never before been seen: an amoeba was having difficulty dividing, and a nearby amoeba came over and helped push the two halves apart. The struggling amoeba apparently put out a “chemical cry for help,” summoning the neighborly “midwife.”

This astonishing discovery – besides shedding crucial light on an ancient and poorly understood process – could be used to develop means of controlling amoeba-borne infectious diseases.