Virus found to carry antibiotic against E. coli

COLLEGE STATION -- Part of a small virus that attacks only bacteria acts like an antibiotic to destroy E. coli, researchers with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station have found.

A report on the antibiotic action of the small virus, "Q Beta," is reported in this week's Science magazine. The research was funded by the National Institute of Health's general medicine institute.

The finding provides a new approach for designing drugs to combat many serious bacterial diseases, including E. coli, pneumonia, staph infection, ear infections, Lyme's disease and cholera in humans, as well as bacterial diseases in pets, livestock and crops, according to Tom Bernhardt, biochemistry doctoral student, and Dr. Ing-Nang Wang, a lead investigator on the project.

New types of antibiotics are increasingly important because many disease- causing bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, reducing the number of medicines available for treatment. Researchers fear that continued resistance could result in epidemics of diseases once thought controlled by antibiotics.

The research at the Experiment Station found that a protein within the small virus, known as a "phage" in scientific circles, does the same thing to bacterial cell walls as antibiotics. It blocks the ability of the cell to make its tough outer wall so bacteria blow up or destroy themselves rather than divide into more cells. Dead bacterial cells means an end to the illness.

"This 'protein antibiotic' is the answer to an old mystery: how Q-beta and other small phage kill bacteria," said Dr. Ry Young, a biochemist in whose lab at Texas A&M University the work was done, in collaboration with Dr. Douglas K. Struck, a medical biochemistry and genetics professor. "Basically they let the cell commit suicide by dividing without making a new cell wall."

The research team expects pharmaceutical companies to further explore phages for new types of antibiotics. "Ideally, the small bit

Contact: Kathleen Phillips
Texas A&M University

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