Will “good” viruses replace antibiotics in the future?

A major health concern for the future

Antibiotics have been around for almost 100 years now, and have proven to be very effective against fighting harmful bacterias. However, during this time, these bacteria had time to evolve and many of them are now becoming “drug-resistant”, meaning that these bacteria have developed a resistance to antibiotics. There are even some bacteria, known as “superbugs”, that have become resistant to nearly every existing antibiotic. If a person is infected with a “superbug”, this means they cannot seek treatment from antibiotics and will have to rely solely on their immune system to fight the disease. This could result in death by diseases that were once treatable. According to the United Nations World Health Organization, “By 2050, estimates indicate that more people could die from antibiotic resistant infections than those who currently die from cancer” (2016), making drug-resistant bacteria one of the most serious health concerns that we face. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

So if antibiotics are becoming ineffective, then what can be done? Researchers are now turning towards a “good virus” called a “bacteriophage”, or simply phage, that kills bacteria, which was previously overlooked by researchers and scientists.

Phages: The Virus that kills drug-resistant superbugs

First of all, what is a phage? Simply put, phages are viruses that infect specific bacteria (Motherboard, Vice). This means that bacteriophages do not infect human or animal cells. There are more phages on earth than any other living specimen, and they can be found almost anywhere. There are also many different kinds of phages, and each phage does not fight the same bacteria.

Phages kill bacteria by binding themselves to the membrane of the bacteria when they come in contact with it and then releasing an enzyme that drills a hole in the bacteria cell. The phage then injects its own DNA into the cell and reproduces more phages inside of it. This causes the bacteria cell to explode (Motherboard, Vice). Phages can therefore be used as a natural alternative to antibiotics, and may prove to be even more effective.


Source: Wikimedia Commons


In the early 1900s, phages were studied by many researchers and scientists all over the world, however, after the invention of antibiotics, Western countries became less interested in phages and any research about the viruses were put to a halt. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, kept investing in phage research and Russia, Georgia and Poland are among the only countries that use phage therapy today as a bacteria-fighting technique. Research scientist Benjamin Chan (Yale University) explains that the United States has been “hesitant to use bacteriophages because they’re a virus.” However, he goes on to explain that there are many types of viruses and virus does not always mean that there is a disease involved.

Will phages replace antibiotics in the future?

Maybe. It will take some time, as much research still needs to be done by Western countries. Many science researchers believe that they will begin to be used out of desperation. One thing is for sure though: our current antibiotics will no longer be a sustainable option and we need to find another alternative and fast!

For more information on the subject, watch the video below by Vice:







How to reduce the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance?

As you know, improper and inappropriate use of antibiotics has resulted in bacteria developing resistance mechanisms. In general, we observe a decrease in the effectiveness of antibiotics in fighting multiresistant bacteria. In fact, the antibiotics that were developed between 1940 and 1980 generally had a very specific target, which facilitated the acquisition of resistance mechanisms by bacteria. In addition, the new antibiotics that are marketed are generally similar to existing antibiotics, making resistance acquisition even easier for bacteria. Thus, all the preceding facts suggest the importance of developing new antibiotics displaying novel mechanisms of action.

One of the alternatives is to develop antibiotics targeting the cell membrane of bacteria. Among others, we find the natural antimicrobial peptides that are a class of molecules participating in the immune response of several organisms such as bacteria, plants and mammals [1]. These peptides have the ability to form pores or to induce defects in the cell membrane, which will lead to a disturbance of the electrochemical gradient across the membrane, thus causing cell death (FIG. 1) .


Figure 1: Illustration of the main mechanisms of cationic antimicrobial peptides [3].

Inspired by these natural peptides, many researchers are attempting to develop synthetic antimicrobial peptides that will be both less toxic and pharmacologically viable. On the market, we find daptomycin (Cubicin®) which acts by a mechanism similar to natural antimicrobial peptides [4]. This antibiotic from the lipopeptide family is used for the treatment of infections involving methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It is interesting to note that, like natural antimicrobial peptides, quaternary ammoniums, which are commonly used in disinfection operations, also destroy bacteria because of their membrane activity [5]. At Lalema, a wide range of quaternary ammonium-based disinfectants are available to meet your needs.

The ever-growing problem of antibiotic resistance is a major health issue and a heavy tax burden on governments. The use of an adequate antibiotic management system, the advent of new technology and better control of the transmission of pathogens (disinfection) are essential tools to reverse the current trend.



[1] Jenssen, H., Hamill, P., and Hancock, R.E. W. 2006 Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 19, 491-511.

[2] Zasloff, M. 2002 Nature, 415, 390-395.

[3] Chan, D. I., Prenner, E. J., and Vogel, H. J. 2006 Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 1758, 1184-1202.

[4] Taylor, S. D., and Palmer, M. 2016 Bioorg. Med. Chem., 24, 6253-6268.

[5] Ioannou, C.J., Hanlon, G. W., and Denyer, S. P. 2007 Antimicrob. Chemother Agents, 51, 296-306.