“Spy” Virus Strategically Attacks Bacteria

A breakthrough discovery could lead to viruses specifically engineered to target any bacteria.

Virus / Image: Getty
Virus / Image: Getty

A recent Scientific American article discussed the concept of “quorum sensing,” a kind of chemical language molecule used by bacteria to determine if other bacteria of the same kind are nearby. Molecular biologists at Princeton University discovered the molecule, which is typically associated with bacteria, on a viral genome that’s capable of using quorum sensing to figure out how many potential victims (i.e. bacteria) are in the vicinity.

Through experiments, the team found that the virus, VP882, coexists with bacteria peacefully until they begin to duplicate. The quorum-sensing signal initiates a kill trigger causing the virus to destroy the host bacterium and sending copies of itself into the colony. VP882 essentially sits around waiting for bacteria to reproduce and then attacks it. This discovery could make phage therapy more attractive to drug companies since it would allow them to engineer specific phages that can kill on demand.

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