Fighting HIV or Pond Scum? Send in Lactobacillus!
"We in Western cultures have this extreme fear about bacteria,'' Dr. Peter Lee tells the San Jose Mercury News. "We always want to kill them with bactericidal soaps. But there are as many, if not more, good bacteria than bad. We're trying to harness the good bacteria.''
Indeed they are. Dr. Lee and his colleagues at Osel, Inc., a Silicon Valley biomedical startup, are in the news for their innovative idea of fighting the HIV virus with probiotic or "good" bacteria -- Lactobacillus jensenii, to be specific. Related to the acidophilus probiotic that is so good for our digestive tracts, this Lactobacillus has been genetically modified by Osel to do one specific job: prevent HIV from entering women's vaginal cells. Their modified bacteria, which go to human trials soon, cuts HIV infection in cells by a little more than half. The idea is for "at risk" women to insert a capsule filled with the special bacteria once a week, to provide continuous protection against HIV.
From the dramatic to the bucolic, it seems the humble Lactobacillus is there. Bio-Energy Systems Inc., of Kalispell, Montana, has identified another species that does a great job of clearing up algae-filled ponds. Bio-Energy Systems grows Lactobacillus plantarum (with no genetic modification) in huge fermentation vats, then freeze-dries the germs for transport. Mixed with water and sprayed into ponds at golf courses and parks, the bacteria do a remarkable job. They not only gobble up nitrogen that algae need to grow, but also pump fresh oxygen into the water while wiping out competing colonies of coliform bacteria (the nasty kind that lead to beach closings). Results: cloudy water made clear, turtles and ducks swim around once more.