Viruses help scientists battle pathogenic bacteria and improve water supply

September 24, 2012

(—Infectious bacteria received a taste of their own medicine from University of Missouri researchers who used viruses to infect and kill colonies of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, common disease-causing bacteria. The viruses, known as bacteriophages, could be used to efficiently sanitize water treatment facilities and may aid in the fight against deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"Our experiment was the first to use bacteriophages in conjunction with chlorine to destroy biofilms, which are layers of bacteria growing on a solid surface," said Zhiqiang Hu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in MU's College of Engineering. "The advantage to using viruses is that they can selectively kill . , such as those used to break down wastes in , are largely unaffected. Hence, viruses could be used to get rid of in water filters that would otherwise have to be replaced. They could save taxpayers' money by reducing the cost of cleaning water."

Bacteria can be difficult to kill when they form a biofilm. The outer crust of bacteria in these biofilms can be killed by chlorine, but the inner bacteria are sheltered. Viruses solve this problem because they spread through an entire colony of bacteria. Hu noted that the bacteriophages are easier to create than the enzymes used to attack biofilms. The viruses also are better at targeting specific bacterial species.

Hu, along with MU's recent graduate, Yanyan Zhang, found the greatest success in killing biofilms by using a combination of bacteriophages and chlorine. An initial treatment with viruses followed by chlorine knocked out 97 percent of biofilms within five days of exposure. When used alone, viruses removed 89 percent of biofilms, while chlorine removed only 40 percent.

"The methods we used to kill Pseudomonas aeruginosa could be used against other , even those that have developed resistance to antibiotics," said Hu. "Our work opened the door to a new strategy for combating the dangers and costs of bacterial biofilms. The next step is to expand our experiment into a pilot study."

The study "Combined Treatment of Pseudomonas aeruginosa Biofilms with Bacteriophages and Chlorine" has been published in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

Explore further: Honey effective in killing bacteria that cause chronic sinusitis

Related Stories

No hiding place for infecting bacteria

March 16, 2009

Scientists in Colorado have discovered a new approach to prevent bacterial infections from taking hold. Writing in the Journal of Medical Microbiology, Dr Quinn Parks and colleagues describe how they used enzymes against ...

Plasma therapy: An alternative to antibiotics?

December 15, 2010

Cold plasma jets could be a safe, effective alternative to antibiotics to treat multi-drug resistant infections, says a study published this week in the January issue of the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

Leveraging bacteria in drinking water to benefit consumers

August 8, 2012

Contrary to popular belief, purified drinking water from home faucets contains millions to hundreds of millions of widely differing bacteria per gallon, and scientists have discovered a plausible way to manipulate those populations ...

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 24, 2012
Jesus,how about giving credit where credit is due! The Russians have a long history of using bacteriophage therapy : http://en.wikiped..._therapy
I recall seeing a documentary on TV about it years ago.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.