As infectious bacteria become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, researchers are looking for new ways to combat the so-called ‘superbugs’ that are predicted to kill 300 million people by 2050 if we don’t find a solution. And now a team of microbiologists at Tel Aviv University in Israel has devised a way for bacteria-killing viruses – known as phages – to make superbugs become sensitive to our antibiotics once more.
The researchers described their proof-of-concept in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week. It involved developing two types of phages that target the common gut bacterium, E. coli. One was a ‘lytic’ phage that killed the bacterium. But researchers also used a method for gene-editing called CRISPR-Cas in a ‘temperate’ phage that could then inject the E. coli with specifically prepared DNA. This hijacking both destroyed the E. coli’s antibiotic resistance, and protected them from the murderous lytic phage. Attacked by deadly phages on the one hand, and DNA-hijacking phages on the other, the bacteria in this experiment were forced to change their path of evolution. A bacterium that can’t be killed by the lytic phage has an advantage over a bacterium that can be. As a result, the hijacked E. coli, even though they were sensitive to antibiotics, survived the phage attack and took over the population.Source: Scientists have figured out how to pit viruses against superbugs