Superbugs, remember those? Before the pandemic came to dominate our airwaves, one of the biggest threats to our collective health was antibiotic resistance. This is the process by which infectious bacteria, like MRSA, slowly but surely, become immune to our strongest medicines. The phenomenon wreaks havoc in hospitals where superbugs thrive on patients with compromised immune systems.
Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance is a consequence of evolution and so, in a sense, bacteria is inevitable (though the process is hastened by the over-reliance on antibiotics in agriculture). So, the race is on to find alternative treatment for bacterial infections. Enter the bacteriophage.
Wherever you find bacteria you’re likely to find viruses that that feed on them called bacteriophages (derived from Greek, meaning devourer of bacteria). These viruses latch on to bacterial cells, inject their DNA into their victim and transform the hostage into a virus factory.
The ultimate goal of phage therapy is to identify viruses that feed on superbugs and find a safe way to deliver them to a patient. It’s a century-old idea that went out of fashion when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but as the efficacy of antibiotics waned, interest in phage therapy has swelled. In 2021, expect a number of ground-breaking studies to publish their results. This could be the beginning of the end of the superbug.
Here’s our in-depth primer on bacteriophages.
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