New protein discovered with antibiotic-like properties

By | Science & Technology
Bacteria 2 bacteriophage image © flicker naturalismus

Since the discovery of antibiotics by Alexander Fleming in 1928, we have strived to maintain a clean and bacteria free environment. Reduction of pathogens in our immediate environment and body is now a concept we heavily use to maintain the increased health we see within the population today.

Now bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics simply and quickly with the ability to save lives. However, today their use is far more widespread, mortal infection to acute conditions will be liberally treated. Yet our anti-bacterial drugs are very much a one trick pony and the very nature of bacteria will make it old news fairly quickly. Due to the incredible reproductive rate of bacteria they can promptly evolve and adapt to become resistant to medicine. The rate by which this can occur is directly linked to the frequency we expose bacteria to antibiotics. Today we are beginning to see the effects of this concept with the appearance of these accidentally produced antibiotic resistant strains. Left unmanaged and unchanged this could lead to a pre-1920s environment to become the norm once again.

This being said for our current lifestyle and health to be maintained this area of medicine requires an additional string to its bow. An Israeli researcher working at the Tel Aviv University department of clinical microbiology and immunology believes to have found this string. Well aware of the issues with modern antibiotics Doctor Udi Qimron stated; “to stay ahead of bacterial resistance, we have to keep developing new antibiotics” and has provided a protein alternative. Like conventional antibiotics which were sourced from mould, this new method too originates from natural sources. In this case the source of this discovery is a bacteriophage; a virus that inserts itself and replicates within bacteria. Whereas mould produces inhibitory chemicals to defend itself, bacteriophages are skilled bacteria huntsmen, optimised to control and subdue their target.

This study revolved around one particular bacteriophage known as T7-phage, which specifically infiltrates E.coli bacteria. Initially research was focused upon the function of fifty seven proteins within T7-phage. However, one protein took precedence as it appeared to inhibit cellular division of  E.coli and has been named 0.4 protein. This protein effectively stops the bacteria from replicating which within a biological system would cause the remaining pathogens to cease reproduction and eventually succumb to advanced age or the immune system. Although different, yet to be analysed proteins could offer different effects; this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Though bacteriophages have been recognised and used in medicine to treat bacterial infections for several centuries, it is yet to be adopted into western medicine. Unlike bacteria, bacteriophages are adapted to penetrate bacterial systems oppose to humans, as such they find it challenging to disperse throughout human tissue to reach their target. Also the heavily filtered bloodstream that bacteriophages are injected into quickly removes the treatment before their job is completed. However, unlike the total bacteriophage Doctor Qimron’s isolated 0.4 protein is far smaller than the entire unit. With a reduced size the rate by which the treatment can disperse is increased to a degree that finally makes it a viable treatment.

All that remains is for pharmaceutical companies to develop a method to deliver this protein in the form of a drug mentions Doctor Qimron, highlighting the need of this methods adoption within mainstream medicine. Also the search remains, to discover more bacteriophage based protein treatments to increase the range of bacterial protection. Although this proposed discovery is very promising as modern antibiotics begin to reach the end of their effective lives.

With the specialised nature of this treatment to specific strains and species of bacteria, could this offer more potent treatments for these specific contagions?

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