Bacteriophage PrebioticAs antibiotic resistant bacteria can threaten to be a health crisis, bacteriophages (natural viruses) can be used as therapeutic agents that infect and kill bacteria. Bacteriophages are the most common life form on earth and outnumber bacteria 10 to one with billions of years of experience. For every bacterium known on the planet, there are legions of bacteriophages (tiny viruses that seek out bacteria and use them as a breeding ground) and destroy the bacteria in the process. They are consumed daily in virtually all fresh and non-processed food, in particular fermented foods1. Therefore, using naturally occurring, lytic bacteriophages may be the safest, “green”, prebiotic currently available. Most people think of “prebiotics” as non-digestible starches that bacteria use for food, not viruses that consume bacteria. According to the FDA, a prebiotic is a non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and therefore improves the health of the host. Bacteriophages have been used as human therapeutics for many years with no reports of adverse effects2. Bacteriophages are a component of the intestinal flora of healthy humans3.

Bacteriophages are natural enemies of bacteria, so they are logical candidates for the control of foodborne bacterial pathogens. Phages ignore every cell but the strain of bacteria they have evolved to inhabit. Phages are species-specific meaning that different strains attack different bacteria. In order for bacteriophages to work, the right match between phage and bacteria need to be determined. This makes them harmless to human cells and to non-targeted bacteria- which distinguishes them from broad-spectrum antibiotics, which wipe out the beneficial flora in the intestinal tract along with the bacteria.

In the intestine, bacteriophage readily penetrate the gastrointestinal barrier, with some phages
eliciting antibody production4. Gorski and Weber‐Dabrowska have also presented evidence that some phages are helpful to humans by exerting immunosuppressive activity in the gut to control local inflammatory and autoimmune reactions5. The bacteriophage act in concert with the immune system in immunosurveillance against bacteria and viruses. Lytic bacteriophages have been used as a prevention or treatment for many bacterial diseases for years.

How do bacteriophage work?

Bacteriophages attach themselves to specific bacteria and inject their DNA. This disrupts the bacterial genome and kills the bacteria. As a result, the lysis of the bacteria cell wall releases nutrients as well as provides space for the beneficial gut bacteria.

Drawbacks of current prebiotics

Prebiotics as non-digestible starches in many cases cause gas, bloating, and stomach discomfort. In addition, efficacy requires high doses and they typically need to be taken over a prolonged period of time. Also, their activity is localized to the large intestine.
Advantages over typical prebiotics

Bacteriophages’ fermentation does cause flatulence or produce discomfort. They are effective in small doses, efficacious within hours, and are active in the small and large intestine. Phages are common components in foods and work great with a broad spectrum of probiotics.

Phages can be used to support overall gastrointestinal health and can be used for both prophylactic and therapeutic applications against bacterial infections.

With the growing levels of antibiotic resistance and exit of major pharmaceutical companies from antibiotic development really makes phage therapy a treatment of choice for the growing number of infections.

Phage therapy has an 80 to 90 percent success rate against bacteria likely to show antibiotic resistance, such Escherichia coli. In contrast, many antibiotics fail against evolved forms of these pathogens.

1. Sulakvelidze A (2005) Phage therapy: an attractive option for dealing with antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Drug Discov Today 10(12): 807‐809.
2. Alissky J, Iczkowski K, Rapoport A, Troitsky N (1998) Bacteriophages show promise as antimicrobial agents. J Infect 36(1): 5‐15.
3. Reyes A, Haynes M, Hanson N, Angly FE, Heath AC, Rohwer F, Gordon JI (2010) Viruses in the fecal microbiota of monozygotic twins and their mothers. Nature 466(7304): 334‐338.
4. Dabrowska, K., K. Switala‐Jelén, A. Opolski, B. Weber‐Dabrowska, andA. Górski. (2005) Bacteriophage penetration in vertabrates J. Appl. Microbiol. 98:7‐13
5. Gorski A and Weber‐Dabrowska B (2005) The potential role of endogenous bacteriophages in controlling invading pathogens. Cell Mol Life Sci 62(5): 511‐519.

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