Sunday, April 17, 2011

BYBS: Bacteriophages

The structure of a typical tailed bacteriophage.  Image from Wikipedia.

Bacteriophages, or just phages as their friends call them, are viruses that infect bacteria.  As such, they can be used in place of antibiotics for infections that have become resistant to the antibio.  Due to a fundamental difference in the way that human and bacterial cells work, the viruses do not infect human cells, and in any case our immune systems tend to clear most viruses (friendly or otherwise) from our systems.

Phages are naturally occurring - for example one being used to counter E. Coli was found in a river outside of Washington DC.  This does not guarantee that it is safe, after all nature gave us the Polio and Smallpox viruses, but it does mean that if it is a problem, then at least it's not a new one.

Phages were apparently used before the advent of broad spectrum antibiotics, but were largely abandoned in Western countries because antibiotics were easier to manufacture and use than phages.  Nonetheless, phage therapy continued to be used in Eastern Block countries and could see a comeback if efforts to come up with new drugs for antibiotic resistant bacteria do not come through.

I like the idea of using viruses to combat bacteria since, as the saying goes "the enemy of my enemy is my enemies enemy.", maybe it's "the friend of my enemy is my friend."  No, that's not right either.  Whatever.  This is one of those ideas that promises to solve a problem and demonstrates extreme cleverness on the part of human beans.

You can learn more about phages from the Wikipedia article, or you can take a look at the Intralytix site (the company that is marketing the anti E. Coli phage).

1 comment:

Tanis said...

this is so bloody cool :)