In a process that pits microbes against each other, researchers at the University of Missouri used viruses to infect and kill colonies of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, common disease-causing bacteria. The scientists say the viruses could be used to fight a frightening public health concern: deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The helpful viruses, known as bacteriophages, can efficiently sanitize water treatment facilities on a large scale to eliminate previously untreatable antibiotic-resistant bacteria and reduce water-borne disease. The viruses may also cut the cost of water treatment.
“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,” says researcher Zhiqiang Hu. “The advantage to using viruses is that they can selectively kill harmful bacteria. Beneficial bacteria, such as those used to break down wastes in water treatment plants, are largely unaffected. Hence, viruses could be used to get rid of pathogenic bacteria in water filters that would otherwise have to be replaced. They could save taxpayers’ money by reducing the cost of cleaning water.”
In tests, treatment with viruses followed by chlorine knocked out 97 percent of biofilms within five days of exposure. On their own, viruses removed 89 percent of biofilms, while chlorine removed only 40 percent.