New bacteriophage discovery gives insight in fight against anthrax

Scientists from the UC Davis Genome Center recently discovered a bacteriophage that invades and kills anthrax, which may provide insight on how to fight the deadly bacteria.

Scientists found the bacteriophage when zebras began dying at the Etosha National Park in Namibia. When researchers studied the zebra carcasses, they found they died of anthrax and discovered the novel bacteriophage.

Bacteriophages, sometimes called bacteria eaters, are viruses that occupy and kill bacterial hosts. Bacteriophages were initially discovered in the early 20th century and studied for antimicrobial use. Antibiotics and penicillin were discovered at approximately the same time, however, and most researchers focused on those drugs.

"With growing concerns about antibiotic resistance and superbugs, people are coming back to look at phages," Holly Ganz, the first author of the paper, said.

Ganz and her research team studied the bacteriophage, called Tsamsa, and discovered the virus infects both strains of anthrax and the bacteria which causes food poisoning. The team was able to identify the gene for lysine, which allows for the cultivation of an enzyme to kill bacterial cells and can be used as an antibiotic.

Ganz hopes other researchers and labs take up the study of Tsama and other phages as alternatives to antibiotics and penicillin.

"You might use it to detect the anthrax bacillus or B. cereus; use it as an alternative to antibiotics or as part of a decontaminant," Ganz said.