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Pub Science: Phage - A

Pub Science: Phage – A

Antibiotics are life-savers, literally.

They have protected us from infections and death time and time again. Most people know about the modern discovery of them and there is evidence of their use through diet as far back as 330 BC (components of tetracycline from diet is incorporated into bones and teeth). The most famous of the discoveries is that of penicillin in 1929 by Flemming. Since then, multiple new antibiotics have been discovered or created however resistance is only a few years away. The history of antibiotic discovery and development is mainly Western dominated as well, which is no surprise given that the West discovered it during times of war and didn’t want to share it.

Antibiotics weren’t the only thing being developed. Bacteriophage (which comes from the Greek; devourer of bacteria) are viruses that are bacteria-specific and cause them to explode with more self-replicating virus that then spreads and explodes and devours until that bacteria is no longer left. The reason these bad boys are so awesome is that to start, they are everywhere (some cases they are as concentrated as 9*10^8 virions per mL), each different type of phage is specific to a different type of bacteria (just like how your fingerprint is unique to you) and they don’t harm humans or human cells as side-effects. They were first reported in 1896 by Ernest Hankin when he tested water from the Ganges for its proclaimed healing abilities, and found that even when passed through a filter, it would cure cholera.

To the West, it was too good to be true. This magical vial of questionable water could cure bacterial infection?! It seemed magical because we couldn’t actually see what was killing the bacteria, the electron microscope wasn’t invented yet. So antibiotics were developed in favour of phages in the West, but phages were still used in the East where the phage libraries have been developed over time. Soldiers used to carry around glass vials of yellowish liquid and would either pour it on a wound or drink it if they got scratched or a stomach bug.

Now with the occurrence of multi-drug resistant bacteria, it might be down to bacteriophage to save the day.



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