I visited evolutionary biologist Michael Hochberg at the Santa Fe Institute today. After a tour of the SFI facilities which are inhabited by permanent and visiting fellows, students, and transients like myself, we talked about his recent research involving bacteriophage control of human bacterial pathogens.
Since antibiotic resistance is a huge and worsening problem, there is greater emphasis on discovering alternate strategies to destroy infection causing microbes.
Hochberg and colleagues studied the ability of bacteriophages to kill Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bug implicated in nosocomial, or hospital-acquired, infections.
In a novel strategy Hochberg and colleagues evolved the bacteriophage, passaging the virus through generations of infection on plates of Pseudomonas. In essence they were selecting for fit strains of bacteriophage that were efficient killers of Pseudomonas. After a few generations of evolution, the phages had deadly ability to obliterate the original strain of bacteria.
It is worth noting that the bacterium also evolves during this process, and the co-evolution of bacterium and phage can reveal interesting patterns in line with expectations of the Red Queen effect.