New research by a team from London's Kingston University has revealed how the bacterium can infiltrate micro-organisms called amoebae , multiplying within its cells while protected from its host from harsh environmental conditions

As well as leading to a better understanding of how bacteria survive, the research could help to prevent the spread of infection, according to lead author Ana Vieira.

Establishing that Campylobacter can multiply inside its amoebic hosts is important, as they often exist in the same environments as in drinking water for chickens on poultry farms, which could increase the risk of infection.

The amoeba may act as a protective host against some disinfection procedures, so the findings could be used to explore new ways of helping prevent the bacterium's spread by breaking the chain of infection.

The relationship between Campylobacter and amoebae has been hotly debated in scientific circles – with conflicting findings in previous studies as to whether the bacteria multiply inside, or only in the beneficial environment around, amoebae cells. 

Professor Andrey Karlyshev said Campylobacter's ability to multiply inside amoebae cells helped protect it from harsh environmental conditions.

The Kingston University London team used a modification of the process that evaluates the bacteria's ability to invade cells – called the gentamycin protection assay – to confirm they can survive and multiply while inside the amoeba's protective environment.

This allows Campylobacter to thrive, escaping the amoeba cells in larger numbers, Andrey Karlyshev, a supervisor on the study, explained.

The research gives us a better understanding of bacterial survival. Because amoebae are widespread, we have shown how Campylobacter bacteria are able to use them as a Trojan horse for infection of the food chain. Otherwise they would not survive, as they are very sensitive to the environment.

As part of the study, the researchers showed how to use the bacterium to expel toxins known as a multidrug efflux pump, plays a key role in its ability to thrive within the amoebae.

" Campylobacter is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics because of its wide use on humans and animals," Andrey Karlyshev said.

He added, "Due to  Campylobacter role in antibiotic resistance and bacterial survival in amoebae, the efflux pump could prove to be a good target for the development of antibacterial drugs.

Targeting the bacterial factors required for survival within amoebae could help to prevent Campylobacter from spreading in the environment and colonizing chickens . This is turn could help reduce its ability to enter the food chain and cause disease in humans.