Virus Trained to Kill Bacteria

Scientists have stumbled upon a new way for coping with drug-resistant bacteria. The discovery involves bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria. While working on an unrelated project, phages were found to contain genes that allow them to quickly change their proteins to bind to different cell receptors. This means that phages can be engineered to treat bacterial infections that have become resistant to antibiotics.

Expert Quote: "This serendipitous finding underscores the importance of basic research. With our increased understanding of how bacteriophages work, we can potentially tailor these viruses to infect and destroy bacteria that have mutated and become drug-resistant." (Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases NIH)

Our Comments: Not all good medical research is done by design. Some is by serendipity, pure good luck. A celebrated example of serendipity took place in 1928 at St. Mary's Hospital in London. While studying staph bacteria, the physician Alexander Fleming happened to noticed that on a dish of agar on which he had been growing germs, near some mold, the germs were less common. He grew more of the mold, named it penicillin from its Latin name Penicillium, and found it was effective against a number of bacteria, including those that cause anthrax, diphtheria, and meningitis.