New method uses viruses to kill bacteria

Boston: Researchers have developed a new method to target and kill specific bacteria using viruses, an advance that may help overcome the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. The results of the study, published in the journal Cell, showed that bacteria-infecting viruses called bacteriophages, or simply phages, could kill different strains of the bacterium E. coli by making mutations in a viral protein that bound to host cells.The researchers, including those from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, collaborating with the US Army, showed that the phages they tweaked in the lab were less likely to provoke resistance in bacteria.

According to the researchers, antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health concerns in the world. For instance, a recent study, published in the journal Science, revealed that the rates of antibiotic resistance in bacteria present in animals raised for meat nearly doubled since 2000.

"Finding a cure for antibiotic-resistant bacteria is particularly important for soldiers who are deployed to parts of the world where they may encounter unknown pathogens or even antibiotic-resistant bacteria," said James Burgess, programme manager in the US Army. Burgess added that wounded soldiers are even more susceptible to infections, and may come home carrying the drug-resistant bugs.

To tackle this looming crisis, the researchers created several engineered phages that could kill E. coli grown in the lab. The researchers said that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has approved treatments for killing harmful bacteria in food using bacteriophages. "We think phages are a good toolkit for killing and knocking down bacteria levels inside a complex ecosystem, but in a targeted way," Lu said.

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