Bacteria Killing Phages Ride In Search Of Susceptible Disease-Causing Bacteria

The Economist January 16th 2021 pp65 |Science&Technology|Bacteriophages|”A hitchhiker’s guide to the microverse” “Viruses hitch lifts on some bacteria, the better to kill others”



Image from work of Yu Pingfeng and others published December 31, 2020 in Environmental Science and Technology DOI:10.101/acs.est.0c06969


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Summary of the Article


Viruses that target and kill bacteria are known as Bacteriophages or phages so why not deploy them to rid ourselves of disease-causing bacteria? Up to now the problem has been getting the phages to the intended target. By chance researchers Yu Pingfeng (Rice University) and Zhu Liang (Zhejiang University) converted an observation into illuminating experiments published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. While observing bacteria in waste treatment plants they noticed phages attached themselves preferentially to mobile bacteria-those having propellers called flagella. They tested the idea that mixing phages with mobile bacteria might result in getting the phages to eventually locate near bacteria that they specifically target in a biologically coupled way. They grew lawns (biofilm) of disease-causing bacteria and then arranged experiments and controls, 1) disease-causing bacteria lawn only, 2) disease-causing bacteria lawn and phage, 3) mobile bacteria and disease-causing bacteria lawn, and 4) mobile bacteria, disease-causing bacteria lawn and phage. Only the last combination of mobile bacteria and phage significantly killed the disease-causing bacteria lawn. Exciting results for sure, more study is needed to evaluate whether this tactic can be used as medical treatment.