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Bacteriophages under the microscope

This month: Bacteriophages

Under the microscope: Shutterstock

What is a bacteriophage?

A a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria and archaea. They are often called “phages”, after the Greek “to devour”.  

Have these been in the news?

Yes, apparently a phage found in a pond in Connecticut has been used to cure a man’s antibiotic resistant infection. 

Urm, I think you might have fallen for some “fake news”.  

It may sound far-fetched, but this is based on a case study published in the well-respected peer-reviewed journal, Evolution, Medicine and Public Health.

OK, what’s the story?

Benjamin Chan, a scientist in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, used the phage found in Dodge Pond, Connecticut in an attempt to cure a patient living with an antibiotic-resistant infection in his chest. The phage – coupled with an antibiotic – was introduced to the man’s chest. 

And what happened?

Phages are only compatible with the bacterial host they attach themselves to, ultimately meaning they can’t infect humans. The phage that was introduced to the infected area in this instance turned out to be an exact match for the bacteria. The patient has not seen signs of an infection in more than a year and a half.

So this could be the answer to antibiotic resistance?

Steady on. The team admits that they “got lucky” with the match. Also, the results of a single study with a single patient can’t be used as proof of phage therapy’s potential. More trials are needed for conclusive evidence.

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