Some viruses aren’t dangerous to humans, a bacteriophage is a virus that is specifically geared up to “attack” bacteria! In fact, some are amazingly useful…
Dr. Darren Smith from Northumbria University highlights, in a Bangor University seminar, how these bacteriophages can be used to target P.aeruginosa. A bacteria responsible for secondary infections in hospitals and the worsening of cystic fibrosis.
The image below doesn’t show a bunch of gone-off wotsits but P.aeruginosa. Which is the gram-negative rod-shaped bacterium that is causing all the fuss in hospitals.
According to Dr Smith, certain bacteriophages can be used to target the bacterium to prevent human infection. When the bacteriophage attacks there is two main cycles the bacterium can go through.
The first stage is where the phage attaches to the bacterium and inserts its DNA.
The phage inserts itself into the chromosome and directs the cell metabolism to produce viral components and copies of phage DNA which are then synthesised.
The phage components are packed with DNA and create a cell lysis (break) to release completed infective phages.
This cycle starts in a similar way to the lytic cycle, the DNA inserts itself into the chromosome, but instead of creating more phages it creates two phage DNA incorporated chromosomes that split into two cells via binary fission.
This prevents normal bacterium cell function and metabolism.
The halt in metabolism in the bacterium is key, as Dr Smith elaborates on the minute knowledge the scientific community has on the metabolic processes of the bacterium. Therefore, to understand and to develop more strategies to reduce bacterial human damage further research into their metabolic processes is needed.
This seminar showed to me that the microscopic world is just as dog eat dog as ours. It also elaborated the importance of understanding the most basic of functions. Without a wealth of knowledge in the metabolomics of the organism, it would be massively difficult to determine how to properly remove it.
The removal of this bacterium, as the seminar showed, can mean the difference between the life and death of immunocompromised patients in hospitals. This is just one type of bacterium, but it has exasperated to me the need for further research into bacteriophages for further protection of humans from secondary bacterial infections.
This field of research, in my opinion, is still underdeveloped and underused in scientific studies today. Thus I would not be surprised if we witnessed future shifts towards this research and scientific investments.
If you would like to know more on bacteriophages this paper by Debarbieux (2010) is perfectly useful in explaining the infection, resolution and effectiveness of bacteriophages.