Home » Killing bacteria with a virus – the simple story of Mr. Bacteriophage

Killing bacteria with a virus – the simple story of Mr. Bacteriophage

by Saiqa Aslam

The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is causing a global microbiological crisis. On September 21, 2016, the United Nations General Assembly met to discuss the matter of antibiotic-resistant microbes. They identified harmful microbes with antibiotic resistance genes as the most significant and most pressing global risk.

This crisis has prompted molecular biologists to reconsider using viruses as medical tools. Their medical study discovered that there are so many different bacteria-eating viruses in the world that many of them must come up as allies in our fight against antibiotic-resistant microbes.

Although many bacterial strains are beneficial to the world, others are responsible for fatal infectious diseases. The scientific research of virology has long known about bacteria-eating viruses. So, why hasn’t medical science used phages to combat bacterial infections?

Bacteriophage therapy is another name for phage therapy. It treats bacterial infections with viruses. Bacterial viruses are also referred to as phages. Phages harm bacteria: they are not harmful to humans, animals, or plants.
Although phage therapy may appear novel, it has been used for over 100 years. The treatment, however, is not widely known. This therapy for pathogenic bacteria could be a viable alternative to antibiotics.


Medical researchers started down that road about a century ago. Frederick Twort and Felix d’Herelle, two scientists, discovered that many viruses kill bacteria in replication.

However, the medical technologies and equipment present currently restrict the use of phages therapy. Although some positive results were obtained, the findings were inconsistent. When antibiotics were discovered in the 1940s, bacteriophage study was confined to a few therapists in the former Soviet Union.


Bacteriophages cause the lysis of bacteria and kill them. When the virus binds to the bacteria, this occurs. Viruses cause infection to bacteria by inoculating their DNA or RNA into bacteria.

The phage virus replicates itself within the bacteria. This can result in up to 1000 new viruses in each bacterium. The virus ruptures the bacteria and releases the new bacteriophages. Bacteriophages can only replicate within bacteria. Once all bacteria have been lysed, they will cease to reproduce.


Tom Patterson was the first person to recover with phage therapy. Tom had a life-threatening infection from Bacteria. He was in Egypt those days and he was rescued in the USA on a priority basis. Tom was treated with the IV administration of bacteriophage against that specific bacterium. He recovered fully and returned to work. He also shared his experience about he had recovered from a month-prolong coma with the help of phage therapy.


Antibiotics attack both harmful and beneficial bacteria in the human body. Certain bacteria are required by your body to aid digestion, produce nutrients, and keep you healthy.
Beneficial bacteria also aid in preventing other bacterial, viral, and fungal infections in your body.

Antibiotics can lead to the formation of superbugs. It indicates that some bacteria become resistant to antibiotic treatment instead of dying. They can pass on this “superpower” to other bacteria. This could lead to harmful infections that are untreatable.

The advantages of phage therapy address the limitations of antibiotics. There are numerous types of bacteriophages. However, each phage will only attack one kind of bacterium. It will not infect other bacteria.

This means that phages can be used to attack disease-causing bacteria. A strep bacteriophage will only be harmful bacteria that cause strep throat infections. Phage therapy can be highly effective in treating infections that antibiotics could not treat.
Phage therapy has been used successfully in some cases. One such success story is of a 68-year-old man from San Diego, California, treated for Acinetobacter baumannii, a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He was treated with phages to stop the infections.

Phage therapy is not new, but it has received little attention in humans and animals. Current research and some successful cases suggest that it may become more common.

Phage therapy is natural antibiotics. It could be an effective alternative treatment against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It may also be helpful in other applications, such as surgical and hospital disinfectants. More research is required before it can be used on humans.


Saiqa Aslam is young scientist and writer from NUST.

MS Industrial Biotechnology 

Atta-ur-rehman School of Applied Biosciences, NUST

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