Virus Enzymes Could Promote Human, Animal Health
August 14, 2009
Could viruses be good for you?
Scientists with the Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) have shown that enzymes from bacteria-infecting viruses known
as phages could have beneficial applications for human and animal health.
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
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.
Studies led by ARS biologist
M. 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.
The scientists showed that the enzymes can knock out pathogens in biofilms,
which are matrices of microorganisms that can attach to a variety of surfaces.
Biofilms are resistant to antibiotics and contribute to many human infections.
In a related study, the scientists showed that using the endolysins
lysostaphin and LysK in concert inhibited the growth of staphylococcal strains
that cause mastitis in cattle and staph infections in humans.
This research was
recently in the journal Biotech
This work is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
Cooperative State Research, Education and
Extension Service, the National Institutes of
Health, and the U.S. Department of
ARS is the USDA's principal intramural
scientific research agency.