Predation of bacteria by phagocytic cells was first developed during evolution by environmental amoebae. Many of the core mechanisms used by amoebae to sense, ingest and kill bacteria have also been conserved in specialized phagocytic cells in mammalian organisms. Here we focus on recent results revealing how Dictyostelium discoideum senses and kills non-pathogenic bacteria. In this model, genetic analysis of intracellular killing of bacteria has revealed a surprisingly complex array of specialized mechanisms. These results raise new questions on these processes, and challenge current models based largely on studies in mammalian phagocytes. In addition, recent studies suggest one additional level on complexity by revealing how Dictyostelium recognizes specifically various bacterial species and strains, and adapts its metabolism to process them. It remains to be seen to what extent mechanisms uncovered in Dictyostelium are also used in mammalian phagocytic cells.