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An unlikely new weapon against a deadly bacteria in oysters: A virus

he available bacteria, he said. Also, antibiotics are general treatments, killing harmful bacteria as well beneficial organisms, making patients vulnerable to yeast infections and other maladies. Phages, by contrast, are extremely specific, with the virus seeking only its natural prey and thus causing no unexpected outcomes.

The research was funded with a $64,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce SeaGrant Program. The agency has awarded the scientists, in collaboration with Anita Wright, a UF assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, an additional $144,000 to pursue a new direction: using phages to purify oysters before they reach consumers. The idea would be to submerge the harvested oysters in vats of phage-treated water, allowing them to filter in the phage and kill off the Vibrio vulnificus before the oysters reach the market. Such technology would be quicker and cheaper to develop and commercialize than a new treatment for Vibrio disease, because it wouldn't have to meet regulatory standards for human medicine, Gulig said. "It would be a truly natural treatment, since we're essentially treating the oysters with something they're already exposed to in the wild," Gulig said.

Alexander Sulakvelidze, an assistant professor of microbiology and epidemiology at the University of Maryland, said the method appears promising.

"There are a number of approaches that allow you to clear oysters of Vibrio vulnificus, and none of them are optimal," Sulakvelidze said.

"They are very expensive or not very applicable for treating live oysters, so this may provide an additional tool to improve the safety of oysters."

Another goal of the UF research is to determine if phages can be used in a topical skin cream to help prevent contraction of Vibrio through skin wounds. "One thing we've thought about is having little vials of phage that fishermen can use prophylactically as soon as they get cut," Duckworth said.


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Contact: Paul Gulig
gulig@ufl.edu
352-392-0050
University of Florida
18-Dec-2002


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