Inspired by Nature's efficiency, researchers have identified a novel way to obliterate the bacteria that cause strep throat, flesh-eating disease and other infections, according to a new study. What is more, unlike the antibiotics that are used against these streptococci bacteria, the new technique may not allow the bacteria to evolve resistant strains. The findings appear today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Vincent Fischetti of the Rockefeller University and his colleagues discovered that the enzymes produced by bacteriophagesviruses that infect bacteriamake for potent weapons. Indeed, the effect of the enzyme produced by the streptococcus phage is swift and deadly. "It kills the target bacteria instantly," Fischetti reports. "It does this by punching holes in the cell walls. We can take 10 million organisms in a test tube, add a very small bit of enzyme, and five seconds later, they are all dead. Nothing other than strong chemical agents can kill bacteria this quickly." He further notes that other bacteria have corresponding phage enzymes, too. Thus, the new results may also apply to other types of bacteria. (Although the enzymeswhich can be harvested from bacteriophages or made artificiallyprobably won't cure infections, they may well reduce the chances of picking up the bacteria in the first place and thereby reduce the spread of disease.)

"I've been working with this enzyme for most of my career," Fischetti remarks. "Even though it seems obvious, we've only realized recently that you can use this method to kill bacteria. Phages have been involved with bacteria for eons and they've figured out how to kill these organisms efficiently. Now we are just harnessing that power."