What is the next penicillin?

Posted by: admin on: October 17, 2011

Antibiotics will only remain useful for so long and new approaches to infectious disease management need to be considered. Is there a way we can force the bacteria to get sick so they can’t do the same to us.

Human viral diseases are a big deal. They cause millions of deaths every year, a huge amount of illness and the resulting social and economic implications are staggering.

But we are not alone in our suffering. Bacteria are afflicted with viruses too.

Bacterial viruses or bacteriophage (phage for short) do to bacteria exactly what viruses do to our cells – invade, usurp and destroy. This begs the question, ‘why are we not killing bacteria with phage all the time?’ and it’s a good question to ask.

Phage are largely ignored by the human immune system, cheap to produce in large numbers and target only the bacterial species that is causing the disease.

As a result these little viruses are poised to be the next penicillin, and rather than to simply replace it, they may bring all the benefits of penicillin without some of the major drawbacks.

Of particular importance was the work of the Frenchman Félix d’Herelle based at the Pasteur Institute in France who developed the field of phage biology throughout his life always continuing to push it forward. D’Herelle was a self-taught microbiologist who discovered phage (or the ‘invisible microbe’ as he called them) in 1916 while examining the stools of French soldiers suffering from bacillary dysentery.

He found that phage started to appear as the dysentery started to clear up and he made a connection – could the phage be removing the bacteria?

Phage make up a huge amount of the biomass of the Earth. In one milliliter of seawater you can find 9 × 108 viruses and up to 90% can be bacteriophage. That means that the oceans alone may contain up to 1.02 × 1033 bacteriophage, even as a conservative estimate.

In this case won’t it be a cheap mode to fight diseases.

Read more on: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/features/online/4087/what-next-penicillin

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