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Amoebas’ munching may cause diarrheal disease

Entamoeba histolytica parasites (blue) bite and ingest bits of cells from a mouse's intestine (green).

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Amoebas biting and swallowing pieces of human cells may be what causes amebic dysentery, a potentially fatal diarrheal disease in the developing world.

Scientists thought Entamoeba histolytica killed intestinal tissue before ingesting it. But new microscope images and video show that amoebas have to bite and engulf bits of healthy cells to kill them, a process that lets the microbe invade the intestinal tissue. Once the healthy cells are dead, the amoebas spit them out, a process that leads to illness, researchers report April 9 in Nature.

Blocking certain molecules an amoeba uses to ingest chunks of human cells could lead to future treatments for E. histolytica infections, the scientists say.

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