Could viruses be good for you? Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service have shown that enzymes from bacteria-infecting viruses known as phages could have beneficial applications for human and animal health. Studies led by ARS biologist David Donovan show that phage enzymes could be used to wipe out multi-drug-resistant pathogens that affect both animals and humans, such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.
Phage enzymes called endolysins attack bacteria by breaking down their cell walls. Unlike antibiotics, which tend to have a broad range, endolysins are comparatively specific, targeting unique bonds in the cell walls of their hosts. This is significant because it means non-target bacteria could be less likely to develop resistance to endolysins.
Researchers at the ARS Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., in collaboration with federal, university and industry scientists, have developed and are patenting technology to create powerful antimicrobials by fusing genetic material from multiple cell-wall-degrading endolysins. Now the researchers are collaborating with biopharmaceutical companies to evaluate and further develop the technology.