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ETH Zurich Scientists redesign virus to target specific bacteria

science lab

The research could hold promise for more targeted anti-bacterial medicine.

(© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)

Zurich scientists have succeeded in “re-programming” a bacteria-killing virus to make it attack a different target instead of its usual prey.  

The method is still in its infancy, but could have consequences for a more targeted tackling of  bacterial infections, the Swiss Federal Technology Institute ETH Zurich wrote on Mondayexternal link

Essentially, the scientists managed to manipulate the behaviour of a certain virus that survives and propagates through attacking specific bacteria cells.  

By identifying the features of the “anti-Listeria” bacteriophage (a type of virus), then adapting it by adding similar but different features from other bacteriophages, the researchers made it head for a different layer of the Listeria bacteria than the one it usually attacks.  

The advantage of this approach is that it allows a very precise targeting of pathogenic bacteria, ETH wrote, especially when compared to standard antibiotics. The latter are indiscriminate in attacking both good and bad bacteria.  

Moreover, bacteria can build up a resistance to antibiotics over time, something that this targeted system also gets around. 

Although bacteriophage therapy was used successfully in one recent case – that of an American teenager suffering from cystic fibrosis who had contracted a severe infection – the ETH scientists say that a large-scale use of the method is not going to happen soon. 

The research was publishedexternal link in the scientific journal “Cell Reports”.  

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