Phage attack


The tiny viruses that prey on bacteria could be used to fight infections.


Transmission electron micrograph of multiple bacteriophages attached to a bacterial cell wall; the magnification is approximately 200,000.
Transmission electron micrograph of multiple bacteriophages attached to a bacterial cell wall; the magnification is approximately 200,000.
Graham Beards

In the image above, bacteriophages attack a bacterial cell. These tiny viruses, often known simply as phages, infect and replicate within a bacterium.

They are some of the most common and diverse entities in the biosphere, and they are found wherever there are bacteria – which is to say practically everywhere. Tests of seawater have found densities of up to 900 million per milliliter.

Because they prey on bacteria but not on multicellular organisms like humans, they have been used as an alternative to antibiotics, particularly in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. As more drug-resistant strains of bacteria emerge, interest in the therapeutic potential of bacteriophages has been revived.

Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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