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Bacteriophages, the ultimate destroyers

The simplest, yet most interesting, way that 'Bacteriophage' can be described is as a virus that infects bacteria. It is quite puzzling at first, as one would not assume that the organisms known for their virulence, could itself be subjected to infection! However, the word ‘Bacteriophage’ is quite literally translated to “bacteria eater” and unknown to many, these are the most abundant living organisms on earth. There are approximately 1031 bacteriophage particles present within our biosphere (Keen, 2015). Though these organisms are quite particulate in nature and are only visible under high magnification such as an electron microscope, they have an intricate structure and genome with fascinating science behind how they destroy bacteria.


Bacteriophages prove that nothing is quite indestructible. Infectious bacteria harm humans and animals, and bacteriophage, in turn, may harm their host, bacteria. However, similar to bacteria, which are not always deadly, bacteriophages can be either temperate, they don’t kill the host, or virulent in which they destroy the host that they are in. When the latter occurs, the bacteriophage is said to have undergone Lytic growth. This involves the injection of the phage DNA into the host cell, replication of the DNA and construction of new phage particles from the synthesis of new coat proteins (Campbell, 2003). Then the harmful part, the bursting (or lysis) of the host cell and the release of several thousands of new phage particles into the nearby environment. The genetics and biology of how bacteriophage undergo this process are phenomenal.


The application of the phage’s mechanism of bacterial destruction is expected to yield massive breakthroughs in the world of science. The study of phage evolution and their significance in natural ecosystems is thriving. Practical problems, such as how to employ phages to battle bacteria-caused human diseases, and what role they play in the development of those diseases, are gaining increased attention (Campbell, 2003). The world of bacteriophage is flourishing and bursting with promise.

By Danielle Hines


References

Keen E. C. (2015). A century of phage research: bacteriophages and the shaping of modern

biology. BioEssays : news and reviews in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, 37(1), 6–9. https://doi.org/10.1002/bies.201400152


Campbell A. (2003). The future of bacteriophage biology. Nature reviews. Genetics, 4(6), 471–

477. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrg1089


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