The Bacteriophage: a deadly foe, or a vital ally?

Photo by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

By: Atli A , Sina S, and Jacob I

A couple weeks ago, the Center for disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an article stating that antibiotic-resistant bacteria were at an all time high. The extremely resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” were found in 27 states this year. The negative is that this mutation is becoming more common.

Many people theorize that one of the most likely ways that humanity will cease to exist is that superbugs will duplicate and spread to everyone.It is thought that there will be nothing that can stop them. But, there is one hope: the Bacteriophage.

Bacteriophages, or just Phages, are cells that puncture the cell wall of the bacteria and archaea (a slightly different bacteria) and injects its DNA from its head and then multiplies within. At the end of its long neck-like organ, consist of an icosahedron shaped head made up a protein shell which contains strands of DNA which instruct it on what to do. It has leg-like hairs on its long-neck that allow it to move. Phages use the bacteria as a host and create millions more of itself until the bacteria or archaea ruptures and explodes.

Well, are Phages deadly to humans? No, Phages do not attack human cells. Instead, they attack harmful bacteria. This works much better than antibiotics.

Antibiotics often kill intestinal bacteria that are beneficial to humans. This friendly fire potentially causes problems in our GI tracts that can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and allergic reactions.

One of the most overlooked issues with antibiotics is that every time someone use an antibiotics, they are opening the door for the bacteria to become resistant. Luckily the chances of this are extremely low but with 154 million antibiotics prescribed per year in the U.S. it happens much too often. According to the CDC approximately 30% of these prescriptions are unnecessary. This means we are giving bacteria nearly 46.2 million more opportunities to mutate than we need to.

A  new plan called CARB (Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria) was released by the white house this year. It set a mandate of only 15% of antibiotic prescriptions being deemed as unnecessary by the year 2020. Although this is progress CARB it is a long term goal which may not succeed.

It may appear that bacteria will simply become immune to phages as well, but this is almost certainly not going to happen. Phages and bacteria have been at war for billions of years and so far neither side has won. This is because just like bacteria, phages evolve as well.

In the case that bacteria become immune to phages it will most likely lose it’s resistance to antibiotics.

This has already been tested on humans. The patient had no hope left and they decided to test what is known as Phage therapy. Phage therapy is when you purposefully add phages to someone’s body to fight off an infection.

Phages do not harm humans and will most definitely be used more in the future to combat the deadly superbugs. The question is, when?

Sources: Center for Disease Control and prevention


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