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Phages: Viruses that Infect Bacteria

A new genetic approach can accelerate the study of phage-microbe interactions with implications for #health, #agriculture, and #climate.

Scientists are continually searching for new and improved ways to deal with bacteria, be it to eliminate disease-causing strains or to modify potentially beneficial strains. And despite the numerous clever drugs and genetic engineering tools humans have invented for these tasks, those approaches can seem clumsy when compared to the finely tuned attacks waged by phages – the viruses that infect bacteria.

Phages, like other parasites, are continually evolving ways to target and exploit their specific host bacterial strain, and in turn, the bacteria are continually evolving means to evade the phages. These perpetual battles for survival yield incredibly diverse molecular arsenals that researchers are itching to study, yet doing so can be tedious and labor-intensive.

To gain insight into these defensive strategies, a team led by Berkeley Lab scientists has just developed an efficient and inexpensive new method. The team showed that a combination of three techniques can reveal which bacterial receptors phages exploit to infect the cell, as well as what cellular mechanisms the bacteria use to respond to a phage infection.

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