Eat, kill or die: when amoeba meets bacteria.
The core function of the innate immune response, phagocytosis, did not evolve first in metazoans but rather in primitive unicellular eukaryotes. Thus, though amoebae separated from the tree leading to metazoan shortly after the divergence of plants, they share many specific functions with mammalian phagocytic cells. Dictyostelium discoideum is by far the most studied amoeba, and it is proving useful to analyze phagocytosis and intracellular killing of bacteria. Since the basic mechanisms involved appear extremely conserved, Dictyostelium provides novel insights into the function of many new gene products. Bacterial pathogenicity was certainly largely developed to resist predatory amoebae in the environment, and this accounts for the fact that a large number of bacterial virulence traits can be studied using Dictyostelium as a host. This provides a particularly powerful system to analyze the complex interactions between pathogenic bacteria and host cells, where both the Dictyostelium host and the bacteria can be manipulated genetically with relative ease.