In one way or another throughout his entire career, Dr. Vincent A. Fischetti, head of the Fischetti Lab at Rockefeller University, has studied bacteria and viruses that kill them. These viruses are called bacteriophages or simply “phages,” and over the last 20 years or so, understanding the mechanism by which they kill bacteria has become increasingly important in light of the worsening problem of antibiotic resistance—the ability of bacteria to resist being killed by antibiotics.
In order to kill a bacterial cell, bacteriophage first infect it, then replicate within it over the course of 20 minutes to an hour, and then produce lysin, an enzyme which essentially drills a hole in the wall of the bacterial cell, allowing for the release of the phage progeny and causing the death of the bacterial cell. In Dr. Fischetti’s lab, they’ve isolated, purified, and produced this enzyme (lysin) in recombinant bacteria; when added to the outside of a bacterial cell, the enzyme operates in the same way as it does when inside the cell: by drilling a hole in the wall of the bacterial cell, causing it to explode and die instantly.
The use of phage lysins as a treatment for bacterial diseases in humans is the first alternative to antibiotics that has ever passed phase 2 clinical trials, and is showing great promise for working around the dangerous problem of antibiotic resistance that threatens lives everywhere. In today’s podcast, you will discover: