Bacteria VS Viruses: Showdown of the Century
Lauryn Mitchell explores how certain viruses might be an unlikely hero in the tale of antibiotic resistance
Antibiotics are becoming less and less effective in treating bacterial diseases. With overuse of the drugs medically and also in the agriculture industry, we are looking for alternative methods of destroying the disease-causing microorganisms.
Bacteriophages are tiny viruses that infect bacteria. They tend to kill the bacteria via a method called ‘cell lysis’, in which the viruses cause the bacterial cells to burst. Scientists are looking into using these exceptional candidates to replace antibiotics in the fight against bacteria which cause a range of diseases, especially the ‘multidrug-resistant bacteria’.
Antibiotic resistance occurs due to the overuse (when patients are prescribed and use antibiotics for non-bacterial infections, like colds and flu) and misuse of antibiotics (not taking the full course as directed to). What causes this resistance are mutations in the bacteria which occur randomly but are more likely to become a problem if antibiotics are present.
Phage therapy already has big success stories. Graham Hatfull, a professor of biotechnology at the University of Pittsburgh, has used a range of phages to treat a young teenager with cystic fibrosis. Another opportunity for phage therapy includes the use of genetic engineering of bacteriophages using methods in biotechnology such as ‘CRISPR-Cas’. This has been used by the company Locus Bioscience to edit the viruses so that they “‘chew up’” the bacterial DNA – causing “a much greater depth of kill”.
Phage therapy already has big success stories.
Although this technique may look like a promising solution to antibiotic resistance, it does come with its drawbacks. Specific requirements of the bacteriophages mean that there are high manufacturing expenses. This sadly means that bacteriophages cannot become a quick fix for the global issue at hand. Instead of becoming the complete alternative to antibiotics, at the moment it is likely that they will be used primarily on multidrug-resistant bacteria or as an aid to current antibiotics to make them more efficient.
So, what does this mean for the future? It is clear that soon, antibiotics won’t be effective against fighting bacterial infections. The use of phage therapy is likely to become the future in treating bacterial infections, but to be safe for widespread use this must be vigorously tested which costs both time and money. Therefore, before these can be accessed, to slow the increase in antibiotic resistance, we as a global population need to be more mindful about how often we are using antibiotics and if we are taking them as directed by medical professionals.