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Fighting fire with fire: How viruses kill resistant bacteria

Fighting fire with fire: How viruses kill resistant bacteria


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Can viruses help fight multi-resistant bacteria?

Bacteria are increasingly resistant to antibiotics. This poses an increasing threat to global health. According to projections, millions of people will soon die each year because of no more medication. A German team of researchers tackles this problem with an unusual approach. The researchers let go of the natural enemies of the bacteria: viruses.

Dr. Li Deng is a virus researcher at the Helmholtz Zentrum M√ľnchen. Together with her team, she is investigating whether viruses are suitable for combating bacteria. After all, they are natural enemies. There is great interest in new bacterial control options. The research, which is still in its infancy, is supported by 1.5 million euros in funding from the European Research Council.

Gloomy outlook - ten million deaths annually

"Around 700,000 people worldwide have died so far from the inactivity of antibacterial drugs," write the Munich researchers in a press release on the young research area. If development continues to this extent, around 20 million people would die from bacterial infectious diseases every year in 2050, the researchers from the Helmholtz Center warned.

Bacteria-eating viruses

Research focuses on the so-called bacteriophages. These are viruses that eat bacteria. "Our approach uses viruses or inhibitors derived from them to fight bacteria naturally," explains Li Deng. The research team hopes to develop an alternative to antibiotics from these bacteriophages. So far, however, they know too little about the molecular mechanisms that lead to the antibacterial effect. In addition, there are currently only a limited number of known and isolated bacteriophages, according to Deng.

Young and ambitious research

Li Deng's team now wants to identify the underlying mechanisms of viral bacterial inhibition. The first step is to investigate how the available bacteriophages react to individual resistant strains of bacteria. Then the underlying mechanism of action is to be decoded. In the final step, bacteriophage therapies against bacterial infections are to be developed.

One of the most important challenges of our time

"The rapid spread of antibiotic resistance and the devastating consequences for those affected make the topic one of the most important scientific challenges of our time," emphasizes Dr. Li Deng. The virologist sees her research as a contribution to society.

Bacterial resistance is on the rise

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the bacterial disease tuberculosis the most dangerous infectious disease worldwide. Every year there are over 550,000 diseases caused by resistant strains in which medication no longer works. So there is an urgent need for an antibiotic alternative. (vb)

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