Israeli ‘antibacterial weapon’ arms good germs to kill bad germs

Helpful bacteria fire ‘poisoned arrows’ at infection-causing microbes in Tel Aviv University lab; they ‘permeate a neighboring cell by brute force and release toxins into it’

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: 3D rendering of bacteria
Illustrative image: 3D rendering of bacteria

A Tel Aviv lab has equipped good bacteria with “poisoned arrows,” which they fire at bad bacteria, dealing them a fatal blow.

“We have built an antibacterial weapon that enables ‘good’ bacteria to attack bad bacteria with toxins and neutralize them,” Dr. Dor Salomon, the lead researcher of the Tel Aviv University project, told The Times of Israel.

His team at the Department of Clinical Biology and Immunology has published an article about its success, in lab conditions, in the peer-reviewed journal EMBO Reports.

It wants to try the technology in fish farms within months, and says that within a few years it could become part of doctors’ arsenal against infections in humans.

Salomon said that since antibiotic resistance is an ever-growing worry to the medical profession, solutions like his that fight infection without deploying drugs have the potential to save many lives.

One of the most effective systems that bad bacteria have for eliminating other bacteria is called the Type 6 Secretion System, discovered around 15 years ago.

Good bacteria armed with the ‘poisoned arrows’ developed by Dr. Dor Salomon’s lab. The ‘arrows’ are seen as light lines inside the bacteria. (courtesy of Dr. Dor Salomon)

Salomon’s team, which also includes researchers Biswanath Jana and Kinga Keppel, has removed this system from bad bacteria. It “installed” the system in harmless bacteria which have been “programmed” to recognize pathogens and attack them, while not harming other microbes.

“We have engineered proof of concept for a safe bacterium that can respond to a cue from outside, like the presence of a pathogen we want to get rid of,” Salomon said.

Dr. Dor Salomon (courtesy of Dr. Dor Salomon)

“We have equipped harmless bacteria with the Type 6 Secretion System, and it is propelled out in the form of an arrow-shaped complex of proteins when activated, which permeates a neighboring cell by brute force and releases toxins into it.

“This secretion system is normally used by bacteria to manipulate or kill neighboring cells, but we use it to arm a safe bacterium with an antibacterial weapon.”

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