Global Health News
Designer Viruses Could Be The New Antibiotics
Condensed by L.D. Ramirez (sourced from an Ars Technica article by Luc Henry)
To combat 'superbugs', scientists have made viruses that make them mundane.
Bacterial infections remain a major threat to human and animal health. Worse still, the catalog of useful antibiotics is shrinking as pathogens build up resistance to these drugs.
The answer, some believe, may lie in using engineered bacteriophages - lab-designed viruses that are injected into bacteria.
In 2007, a group of scientists from the dairy industry found out that bacteria have the ability to build up immunity to viruses. They do this by integrating fragments of virus DNA into their own genome, using a DNA-cutting protein called Cas9.
Today, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and from Rockefeller University have independently discovered methods that trick a bacteria's own Cas9 proteins into chopping off its antibiotic resistance genes or other harmful properties. After those genes are removed, the superbug either dies or is rendered harmless.
Although the method still needs improving before it's useful for treatment, its ability to specifically eliminate antibiotic resistance genes has significant potential because it can limit their spread to other bacteria.
Fighting antibiotic resistance would not be the only application for these engineered viruses. Current small-molecule antibiotics also end up killing other healthy bacteria in our body. The new method could leave the harmless bugs intact, thus minimizing the side-effects of antibiotics use.
In the past few years, the role of friendly microbes living in the human gut has become clearer. Imbalance in the diversity of species and their relative abundance may influence the development of certain conditions—including depression, diabetes, and obesity. In this context, engineered viruses that restore or shape microbiota (or flora) could greatly improve health.