Scientists at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center have found that the virus can prevent bacteria from sharing antibiotic resistance genes. The research findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide clues to new treatments for bacterial infections.
Viruses that only infect bacteria are called bacteriophages, or phages for short. Phages are the most numerous biological objects on Earth. The soil is teeming with phages, just like the human intestine. Phages are the ones that can help scientists fight antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.
Some phages only infect bacteria whose surface contains cylindrical structures – pili. They enable bacteria to pass resistance genes to each other and increase their ability to attack cells. Scientists wondered how to inactivate these functions, and in a new study, they infected E. coli with the MS2 phage.
It turned out that MS2-infected E. coli are unable to repair damaged pills. A similar phenomenon may be widespread among other phage strains that are used to infect bacteria, scientists are sure. The research results will be useful in the treatment of patients.
First, using phages to reduce the virulence of bacteria can give the immune system time to fight infection. Secondly, there may be a new way to fight bacterial infections – more gentle for patients than antibiotics or phage therapy.
One of the advantages of our method compared to traditional phage therapy is that you do not kill the cell, you simply disarm it. Killing a cell can cause problems. The fact is that a toxin can be inside the cell, which, after its death, will enter the host’s body.
Lanning Zeng, Ph.D.
Phages targeting piluses can also potentiate antibiotic effects. Some bacterial infections only respond to high doses of antibiotics, which can cause side effects. Adding phages to the mixture may allow doctors to reduce the dosage required.