10. 6. 2024

Phages under scrutiny

or how phages were discovered and how we know them today

Bacteriophages, also called phages or phage particles, are viruses capable of infecting and destroying bacteria. They have the great advantage of being specific to a particular strain, leaving surrounding bacteria and human cells unaffected. Their importance in fighting bacteria and their potential in modern medicine remains a fascinating topic for endless study and development.

The discovery of these microscopic organisms has a rich history associated with scientists who have helped reveal their presence and potential in medical and biological research. The history of the discovery of bacteriophages is filled with exciting discoveries and breakthroughs in the fields of microbiology and medicine.

First discoveries

The history of bacteriophages dates back to 1896, when Ernest Hakin, a Briton in India, observed that drinking water from the Ganges River protected people from cholera-causing bacteria. In the early 20th century, bacteriologist Dmitry Ivanovsky and physiologist Georgy Gamalei discovered that there was “something” that could infect bacteria, although it was not yet known exactly what it was.

But Félix d’Hérelle, a French microbiologist, plays a key role in the history of bacteriophages because he was able to describe them first. In 1917, he discovered that bacteriophages are viruses that attack bacteria and have the ability to kill them. This discovery laid the foundation for future research and use of bacteriophages in the treatment of infections.

Therapeutic use

One of the important milestones in the history of bacteriophages was their use to treat bacterial infections. D’Hérelle and his team pioneered the treatment of infections with bacteriophage preparations, bringing a new way to fight bacteria. They first used them successfully in the treatment of bacillary dysentery in 1919, and gradually many other phage therapeutics appeared for the treatment of various infections.

With the advent of antibiotics, phage therapy was abandoned. However, the countries of the former Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and especially Russia actively continued the development of phage therapy and fully incorporated it into their medical practices. However, due to the increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, research and production of new antibiotics is becoming more complex and costly. As a result, phages are once again coming to the fore and are attracting the interest of physicians.

Modern research

Thanks to advances in genetic engineering and biotechnology, the potential use of bacteriophages to fight resistant bacteria and infections such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has been intensively investigated recently. The studies focus not only on therapeutic applications but also on the use of bacteriophages in the food industry or cosmetics and research.

Bacteriophages today

Today, bacteriophages are still the subject of intense scientific research and their potential in medicine and biotechnology is widely recognised. They have great potential as an alternative to antibiotics and in the fight against bacterial infections, especially in view of the increasing incidence of antibiotic resistance. They also present advantages over antibiotics, such as their ease of preparation, rapid multiplication at the site of infection without disrupting the surrounding microbiome, and their ability to permeate the bacterial biofilm. They are used not only in medicine but also in cosmetics.

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