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Bacteriophage As A Tool For Eliminating Microbial Pathogens From People, Drinking Water, & Food

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Bacteriophage are the most abundant replicating entities on the planet. They can potentially serve as a tool for eliminating microbial pathogens from people, drinking water, and food. Towards these aims a grant has been issued by the European Research Council to develop bacteriophage against antibiotic resistant bacteria, a bacteriophage-based diagnostic for pathogenic bacteria in water has been developed, and a bacteriophage-based food safety tool has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Phage – ten million trillion, trillion more abundant than every other organism combined A bacteriophage, or phage for short, is a virus that can infect microbes including bacteria and archaea. Although not well known outside of microbiology circles, phage are in fact some of the most common entities in the environment.

According to University of San Diego Health, there are 1031 phage on earth, ten million trillion, trillion more than every other organism combined.Phage are simple machines that consist of protein coated DNA or RNA, that may have an elaborate structure. The phage genome can be as small as four genes, but are known to range into hundreds of genes.Bacteriophage were first identified at about the same time (1915-1917), independently by British and French-Canadian scientists.Frederick Twort in London was uncertain of the viral nature, however Félix d’Herelle, located in Paris, was certain and named the viruses that infected bacteria, bacteriophage. Phage Therapy was invented by d’Herelle, and he recorded the recovery of a man suffering from dysentery as a result of his phage therapy.

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The antibiotic crisis

With the advent of antibiotics in the 1940s phage therapy was put aside, except in parts of Europe and the former Soviet Union. It is now making a comeback following the emergence of the antibiotic crisis, which is due to the failure to develop new antibiotics at the same rate that microbes have developed resistance to existing antibiotics.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Infectious Disease Society of America, each year in the USA alone, at least 2 million people are infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and more than 100,000 people could be dying each year as a direct result of these infections. New grant awarded to tackle antibiotic resistant bacteria with phage With this background in mind, the European Research Council has awarded a Starting Grant of 1.5 million Euros to Dr. Li Deng of Helmholtz Zentrum München, Germany covering a period of five years in order to develop phage-based therapies for antibiotic resistant bacteria.

One of the aims of the grant is to develop a systematic approach to identify the mechanism of action of phage against antibiotic resistant bacteria. This knowledge may then be deployed to develop new more targeted approaches.The bacteria Helicobacter pylori, found in the stomach and linked to gastric ulcers and stomach cancer is a major target of the research. Phage as a diagnostic for unsanitary water Phage can also serve a dual purpose as a diagnostic according to new research led by Sam Nugen of the Department of Food Science Cornell University, Ithaca, USA, published in the journal Analyst.Drinking water contaminated with E. coli bacteria is a major public health concern, especially in areas of the world with poor infrastructure and limited medical capacity.

The research team have engineered a phage that contains firefly luciferase (luminescent protein) fused to a carbohydrate binding module that is specific to crystalline cellulose. This allows the phage to be added to a liquid sample for testing, incubate and then captured on a cellulose filter. If E. coli are present the filter should fluoresce.Using this approach, the research team demonstrated a limit of detection of less than 10 bacteria per millilitre, with an incubation time of three hours. A positive result indicates possible fecal contamination, and the water should not be consumed.

Intellectual Ventures/Global Good a group that focuses on philanthropic humanitarian scientific research is working to further develop this potential diagnostic for use in the field. Phage as a food safety tool Along similar lines the US food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently granted a phage based food safety tool called Phageguard-E, that eliminates E.coli O157, a designation of Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).E.coli O157 causes food poisoning. It is a Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC). Close to 5,000 cases of STEC food poisonings were recorded last year in the US alone. It can lead to kidney failure and anemia. This is described as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and is especially dangerous for the elderly and small children.

Phageguard-E was developed by Micreos a Netherlands-based phage technology company which is set to start industrial scale projects with US-based beef meat processing companies shortly. It is currently formulated for spraying and dipping.Phageguard-E is also effective for vegetables. The company also has FDA approved phage products against Listeria and Salmonella.Some advantages of phage are that it poses no danger to plant workers and does not damage equipment, concrete floors or water-treatment installations. It does not affect taste, odor or texture.


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