Burkholderia cepacia is a Gram negative, motile rod that is 1.6-3.2µm in length. B. cepacia is a strict aerobe and a chemoorganotroph with an optimum temperature of 30-35°C. It is found in soil, water and on plants and can survive longer in wet environments then in dry ones.
First described in 1949 by Walter Burkholder of Cornell University, it was originally thought to be a species of genus Pseudomonas but by the early 1990's it was found to be sufficiently different from other Pseudomonas species to warrant a new genus.
B. cepacia is unusual as it is a plant and human pathogen, and a bioremediation and biocontrol agent.
Its use as a biocontrol agent is in that it produces a number of antibiotic compounds with activities against plant fungal pathogens without being toxic or polluting the soil or water. By spraying it onto crops it can prevent damage by a number of pathogens, and for this reason there has been a great deal of commercial interest.
B. cepacia is able to metabolise almost anything it is presented with, including chlorinated hydrocarbons. This makes it of interest to biotechnologists investigating ways in which to clean up land contaminated by these compounds. It is able to breakdown the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and may be useful in cleaning up contaminated land and water.
B. cepacia is a plant pathogen, it causes soft rot in alliums (onion, garlic etc).
B. cepacia poses only a small risk to healthy people (minor urinary tract infection or respiratory infection), but to cystic fibrosis (CF) sufferers infection with this organism is potentially life-threatening. B. cepacia was first isolated from CF patients in the 1970's, it was found to be more prevalent in older patients and was linked to recent hospitalisation (see:nosocomial infection).
Infection with B. cepacia is difficult to treat, it is resistant to many antibiotics, and infact it will grow on penicillin media. Combinations of antibiotics can be used, but B. cepacia is able to quickly adapt and become resistant. There has been some success with the use of Meropenem (Merrem IV in the US and Meronem in the UK).
The potential usefulness of this organism is great, however, its pathogenicity cannot be overlooked. As a biocontrol and bioremediation agent it would be sprayed onto crops or soil, this could potentially be hazardous to humans especially to cystic fibrosis sufferers.
British National Formulary (http://bnf.vhn.net/)