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[News article] Designer viruses could be the new antibiotics | Ars Technica

Designer viruses could be the new antibiotics | Ars Technica.by Luc Henry Oct 16 2014, 11:30am EDT

From the news article

Bacterial infections remain a major threat to human and animal health. Worse still, the catalog of useful antibiotics is shrinking as pathogens build up resistance to these drugs. There are few promising new drugs in the pipeline, but they may not prove to be enough. Multi-resistant organisms—also called “superbugs”—are on the rise, and many predict a gloomy future if nothing is done to fight back.

The answer, some believe, may lie in using engineered bacteriophages, a type of virus that infects bacteria. Two recent studies, both published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, show a promising alternative to small-molecule drugs that are the mainstay of antibacterial treatments today.

From basic to synthetic biology

Nearly every living organism seems to have evolved simple mechanisms to protect itself from harmful pathogens. These innate immune systems can be a passive barrier, blocking anything above a certain size, or an active response that recognizes and destroys foreign molecules such as proteins and DNA.

An important component of the bacterial immune system is composed of a family of proteins that are tasked specifically with breaking down foreign DNA. Each bug produces a set of these proteins that chew the genetic material of viruses and other micro-organism into pieces while leaving the bacterial genome intact.

In vertebrates, a more advanced system—called the adaptive immune system—creates a molecular memory of previous attacks and prepares the organism for the next wave of infection. This is the principle on which vaccines are built. Upon introduction of harmless pathogen fragments, the adaptive immunity will train specialist killer cells that later allow a faster and more specific response if the virulent agent is encountered again.

Crisp news

Until recently, people thought bacteria were too simple to possess any sort of adaptive immunity. But in 2007, a group of scientists from the dairy industry showed that bacteria commonly used for the production of cheese and yogurts could be “vaccinated” by exposure to a virus. Two years earlier, others noticed similarities between repetitive sections in bacterial genomes and the DNA of viruses. These repetitive sequences—called CRISPR for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”—had been known for 20 years, but no one could ever explain their function.

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October 21, 2014 - Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , ,

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