It's not as visually exciting as the little fungi nooses, but it's just as chemically exciting. As bacteria are not capable of forming phyiscal structures to capture a worm, they make chemical ones, specifically volatile chemicals which diffuse easily and can be sensed by the worm.
In layman terms they smell good. They smell like food.
Nematodes don't have a huge number of well programmed behaviours in their little nematode brains, but "move towards food" aka "positive olfactory chemotaxis" is one of the most robust and common behaviors. And the bacteria take full advantage of this. They secrete chemicals that are based on modified quorum sensing molecules (usually used for bacterial communication), which cause the worms to not only arrive where the bacteria are waiting, but also to happily gobble them up, after all they do smell like food.
Once eaten, the bacteria end up in the worms digestive tract, where they start to secrete enzymes - two digestive proteases called Bace16 and Bae16. Although previous work had assumed that these two proteases worked on the outside of the worms cuticle the paper used flourescent labeling studies to show that both Bace16 and Bae16 had their effects once inside the worm. Bace16 (labelled in red) and Bae16 (labelled in green) were both injected into an unsuspecting worm, which was then visualised every hour:
Images taken after 2hs, 5hrs, 8hrs and 24hrs - from the reference.
It's a little hard to see in the small picture above, but it is clear that the worm is getting ill, breaking apart, and finally just decomposing due to the action of the two proteases. The bacteria is not using the proteases to break into the worm, but to break out of it, digesting the worm in the process. This was further proved by making bacterial strains with the genes for Bace16 and Bae16 knocked out. Infection with the knockout strains led to far less virulent bacteria, and worms that survived for far longer.
It's an interesting new type of predation - a kind of Trojan Horse predator. Rather than chasing its prey, or directly infecting it, the bacteria gets itself eaten and then destroys the worm from the inside out. The paper suggests that as well as being interesting, this knowledge could help lead to more efficient biocontrol strategies for the elimination of nematode worms, now we know the active series of events involved in nematode predation by bacteria.
Niu Q, Huang X, Zhang L, Xu J, Yang D, Wei K, Niu X, An Z, Bennett JW, Zou C, Yang J, & Zhang KQ (2010). A Trojan horse mechanism of bacterial pathogenesis against nematodes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 20733068
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