The development of antibiotics over the years has provided scientists and doctors with an effective way to eliminate harmful bacteria.

However, with newer strains starting to become more resistant to treatment, killing off microbial infections has become more difficult than ever before.

This is what inspired researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University to develop a new means to eliminate deadly strains of bacteria without the use of antibiotics.

The new technology makes use of bioengineered particles called phagemids. These are microorganisms that can produce toxins that are particularly deadly to bacteria.

According to the researchers, the phagemids are based on the concept of bacteriophages, viruses that have the ability to kill bacteria by infecting them.

Compared to traditional broad-spectrum antibiotics, bacteriophages target only specific bacteria without damaging the normal microflora of the body. These viruses, however, can also cause undesired side effects to a person's health.

James Collins, MIT's Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science and lead author of the study, explained that bacteriophages eliminate bacteria by causing the cell to burst. This can be problematic as it can also release harmful toxins contained within the cell.

Collins said these toxins can eventually develop into sepsis, or infection of the blood, and even death in some cases.

In their earlier research, Collins and his team bioengineered bacteriophages that did not cause the cells to burst, but instead improved the effectiveness the antibiotics they were simultaneously delivered with.

The researchers built on this previous study by developing a new technology that would eliminate specific bacteria but without causing the cells to burst and their toxins to be released.

Collins and his colleagues were able to produce the phagemids through the use of synthetic biology techniques. These particles are designed to kill bacteria by infecting it with DNA molecules called plasmids which will then replicate inside the host cell independently.

The plasmids will then express different proteins from within the bacteria cell, causing it to die without allowing it to replicate or burst.

Collins said their new antibacterial technology is highly targeted as the phagemids will only attack specific bacterial species. This could potentially make the system a viable option for infection therapy.

While bacteria are known to develop resistance to stress placed upon them, Collins believe the microorganisms will likely to take a longer period to develop resistance against phagemids.

The researchers are now planning to develop a broader range of phagemids to address different types of bacterial infection.

They have tested the new antibacterial technology on the bacteria E. coli, but they hope to produce phagemids capable of eliminating pathogens such as Clostridium difficile and the bacterium Vibrio cholerea.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University study is published in the journal Nano Letters.

Photo: Anthony D'Onofrio | Flickr 

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