Common Kitchen Sponge Viruses May Consume Tough Bacteria

New research presented this weekend at the annual American Society for Microbiology suggests that some viruses—which often populate kitchen sponges—are able to eat bacteria.  

Of course, a kitchen sponge is consistently exposed to myriad microbes, which means that they each develop their own special microbiome of organisms, and particularly bacteria.  And, as the study has found, the most common bacteria that populates kitchen sponges seem to be a rich food source for at least two types of phages. 

Using the bacteria as bait, the study identified at least two phages—bacteria-eating organisms—that could actually swallow bacteria. Perhaps more importantly, though, they found that even when putting these phages into different environments, they still kill whatever bacteria is present.  

With these observations, the researchers then compared the DNA of each of the pair of isolated strains to find that they both belong to a rod-shaped group of microbes that are also commonly found in feces. In fact, some of these microbes have been known to cause infection in hospital settings. 

While the two bacterial strains do seem to be closely related, the research team found that they have definite chemical variations, something that is easily determined during biochemical testing. Indeed, this testing revealed that these two phages are not very picky eaters. 

According to study author Brianna Weiss, the study illustrates “the value in searching any microbial environment that could harbor potentially useful phages.”

The New York Institute of Technology life sciences student goes on to say, “These differences are important in understanding the range of bacteria that a phage can infect, which is also key to determining its ability to treat specific antibiotic-resistant infections.”

At the end of the day, then, all of this speaks to the possibility of developing new antibiotic treatments at a time when bacteria are becoming more resistant to our traditional medicines.  As superbugs continue to develop immunity to our best antibiotic drugs, the potential for developing treatments using phages that do not discriminate its food is more than novel.  Indeed, it might the thing that saves us.