By now, we have all heard the scares that have been caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA, and the newer VRSA, and the threats they pose due to lack of alternate treatments in cases of infection. Many species of the Staphylococcus genus are commonly found as part of the micro biome of bacteria that are present in every human in the world.
However, if the general population of native bacteria falls too low, some species take advantage, multiplying and causing an infection known as staph. Since they are immune to the effects of typical drugs, they can be considerably more dangerous, and have sparked a race to try and discover new antibiotics which the bacteria have not yet developed immunity towards. However, over time, newer strains may arise which could overcome those treatments as well.
However, one group of researchers is trying to beat the bacteria at their own game. Doctors in Pennsylvania, USA, have been experimenting with the efficacy of treating Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) bacteria with predatory bacteria which attack and feed off the pathogenic bacteria. The two bacterial species currently under scrutiny are of the species Bdellovibrio and Micavibrio.
While not harmful to humans or other multicellular life, their natural life cycle involves seeking out and attaching themselves to the exterior of bacteria such as Staphylococcus, before invading and killing the host. Who’d have thought germs could get ill?
The study aimed to determine whether or not the alterations in the structure of MDR bacteria, which prevent traditional antibiotics from binding and taking effect, would impact on the ability of Bdellovibrio and Micavibrio to detect and infiltrate them.
By growing both predator and prey bacteria together in culture, with MRD bacteria in one sample and drug vulnerable bacteria in the other, and comparing the numbers of surviving staph bacteria, researchers were able to check for any resistance. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to pose any challenges for the invaders, and both populations of infectious bacteria were decimated.
The success of this study has the potential to open up new areas of research into the use of bacteriophage micro-organisms as disease combatants, with the added advantage over drugs that as the prey evolves to outmanoeuvre the predator, the predator can evolve to catch up with the prey, without needing outside tinkering from us. Maybe one day, you’ll end up visiting your GP and asking for an infection to combat your infection.