Engineered viruses may help fight drug-resistant superbugs

March 3rd, 2009 - 1:43 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Mar 3 (ANI): A virus that weakens bacterial defence systems is the latest weapon in the fight against drug-resistant superbugs.

Researchers in the United States have engineered viruses to weaken the bacteria, leaving the bugs more vulnerable to antibiotics, reports Nature.

The bacteriophages or just ”phages” were programmed to target a DNA repair system that allows the bacteria to survive antibiotics.

Used alongside the drugs, the viruses wipe out bacterial defences and prevent resistance from developing.

With more bacteria becoming resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics, the viral approach could extend the useful lifetime of these drugs.

Bioengineer James Collins of Boston University in Massachusetts and his then graduate student, Timothy Lu, genetically engineered a phage called M13, which does not cause infected cells to explode, to produce a bacterial protein called lexA3 which impairs a bacterium’’s ability to repair damaged DNA.

When the modified M13 phage infects a bacterium, in this case Escherichia coli, it produces lexA3, which renders the bacterium more vulnerable to DNA-damaging drugs.

The researchers found that the phage increased the ability of the antibiotic ofloxacin to kill E. coli grown in culture, even when the bacteria were resistant to the antibiotic on its own.

The findings suggest that this type of phage therapy could rejuvenate antibiotics that have been deemed no longer effective.

The results of the study conducted on mice were also promising.

80 percent of animals that received both ofloxacin and the modified M13 phage survived infection with a disease-causing strain of E. coli, compared with only a 20 percent survival rate among infected mice treated with the antibiotic alone. (ANI)

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