New in vivo model of intestinal colonization using Zophobas morio larvae

© Marco Finsterwald

Zophobas morio larvae have attractive features that could justify their use for the development of new in vivo models. In particular, the larvae have a highly diversified gut microbiota, possibly due to the type of food the larvae receive during rearing.

Zophobas morio, a beetle from the Tenebrionidae family, is commonly utilized in the pet food industry and for recreational fishing. Their larvae possess a strong exoskeleton, can survive up to 6 months and harbor a highly diverse gut microbiota mimicking the human intestinal tract. This makes them invaluable for advancing new in vivo models.

Andrea Endimiani's research aims to minimize the number of mice experiments. Endimiani's recent studies showed that the larvae can harbor rare or previously unidentified antibiotic-resistant Gram-negative bacteria, often associated with complex diseases, as well as novel antimicrobial resistance genes.

One exceptional trait of these larvae is their ability to consume a wide array of foods, including plastics (polystyrene), demonstrating their adaptability and potential environmental implications. Upon consuming contaminated food for a week, the larvae become colonized with antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli, Gram-negative bacteria responsible for numerous infections in humans and animals as well as contamination of the environment. Surprisingly, even after the removal of the contaminated food, the larvae maintained this intestinal colonization. The sole method that was able to decolonize the larvae was through oral treatment with bacteriophages, viruses that target and eliminate bacteria.

Numerous researchers are now exploring further and diverse decolonization strategies that could be tested with this model – hopefully significantly reducing the number of tested mice.