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:

 

SOURCES:

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9kdbqa/bacteriophages-phage-therapy-antibiotic-resistant-bacteria?utm_source=mbfb

http://www.lemonde.fr/sciences/article/2012/06/14/les-phages-des-virus-guerisseurs_1718745_1650684.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibiotics

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54928#.WnikApM-cWo

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