Traditional approaches to phage therapy rely on the ability of viruses to kill their bacterial prey. However, the narrow host range or most bacteriophages and the ability of bacteria to become resistant to infection mean that in practice, using phage to simply replace antibiotics is not feasible. We need smarter approaches, which is where a recent paper comes in. Using phages to engineer sensitivity to antibiotics is a promising approach, but whether this proof-of-principle experiment ever makes it to the clinic is another matter.
Reversing bacterial resistance to antibiotics by phage-mediated delivery of dominant sensitive genes. (2011)Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 23 Nov 2011 doi: 10.1128/AEM.05741-11
Pathogen resistance to antibiotics is a rapidly growing problem, leading to an urgent need for novel antimicrobial agents. Unfortunately, development of new antibiotics faces numerous obstacles, and a method that will resensitize pathogens to approved antibiotics therefore holds key advantages. We present a proof-of-principle for a system that restores antibiotic efficiency by reversing pathogen resistance. This system uses temperate phages to introduce, by lysogenization, genes rpsL and gyrA conferring sensitivity in a dominant fashion to two antibiotics, streptomycin and nalidixic acid, respectively. Unique selective pressure is generated to enrich for bacteria that harbor the phages encoding the sensitizing constructs. This selection pressure is based on a toxic compound, tellurite, and therefore does not forfeit any antibiotic for the sensitization procedure. We further demonstrate a possible way of reducing undesirable recombination events by synthesizing dominant sensitive genes with major barriers to homologous recombination. Such synthesis does not significantly reduce the gene’s sensitization ability. Unlike conventional bacteriophage therapy, the system does not rely on the phage’s ability to kill pathogens in the infected host, but instead, to deliver genetic constructs into the bacteria, and thus render them sensitive to antibiotics prior to host infection. We believe that transfer of the sensitizing cassette by the constructed phages will significantly enrich for antibiotic-treatable pathogens on hospital surfaces. Broad usage of the proposed system, in contrast to antibiotics and phage therapy, will potentially change the nature of nosocomial infections toward being more susceptible to antibiotics rather than more resistant.