Scientists redesign virus to target specific bacteria

The research could hold promise for more targeted anti-bacterial medicine. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Zurich scientists have succeeded in “re-programming” a bacteria-killing virus to make it attack a different target instead of its usual prey.  

This content was published on November 4, 2019 - 16:26

The method is still in its infancy, but could have consequences for a more targeted tackling of  bacterial infections, the Swiss Federal Technology Institute ETH Zurich wrote on MondayExternal link

Essentially, the scientists managed to manipulate the behaviour of a certain virus that survives and propagates through attacking specific bacteria cells.  

By identifying the features of the “anti-Listeria” bacteriophage (a type of virus), then adapting it by adding similar but different features from other bacteriophages, the researchers made it head for a different layer of the Listeria bacteria than the one it usually attacks.  

The advantage of this approach is that it allows a very precise targeting of pathogenic bacteria, ETH wrote, especially when compared to standard antibiotics. The latter are indiscriminate in attacking both good and bad bacteria.  

Moreover, bacteria can build up a resistance to antibiotics over time, something that this targeted system also gets around. 

Although bacteriophage therapy was used successfully in one recent case – that of an American teenager suffering from cystic fibrosis who had contracted a severe infection – the ETH scientists say that a large-scale use of the method is not going to happen soon. 

The research was publishedExternal link in the scientific journal “Cell Reports”.  

Articles in this story

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.