Engineered bacteriophages – Educational animation
Prof. Dr. Lars Fieseler from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences asked us to explain the process of acquiring and engineering bacteriophages as the potential treatment against bacterial infections.
Prof. Fieseler manages the ZHAW Centre for Food Safety and Quality Management department and his team’s project involves studying and engineering bacteriophages in order to treat bacteria (in this case E. coli).
As antibiotic resistance is becoming one of the most serious threats to humanity, scientists around the world are trying to develop alternative treatments. Phages – naturally infecting and killing bacteria – offer one of the most promising solutions. Unlike many antibiotics, they work in a very targeted manner, with each phage being infectious only to one bacterial strain.
The problem of antibiotic resistance seems to be especially important today, as we’re experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Though COVID-19 is a virus, a very high incidence of secondary bacterial infections has been observed among patients hospitalized for COVID-19. What’s more, COVID-19 patients are often given antibiotics as a precaution, further contributing to antibiotic resistance.
With the educational purpose of the video, we’ve decided to go for a 2D animation style – light, colorful and fun. We present bacteria and phages as cartoon characters, which helps the viewer quickly identify the good and the bad guys. Having the general public as the target audience in mind allows for simplification of the story and the visuals – skipping the scientific details and focusing on the essence of the story.
Bacteria are everywhere. Many bacteria, for example in the gut, are helpful, but others can make us sick.
Antibiotics are used to keep bacteria under control, but many bacteria have become resistant to them.
Nature uses a different tool to control bacteria already for millions of years: phages. Phages infect bacteria and kill them, releasing many new phages. Phages selectively kill harmful bacteria even if they are resistant to antibiotics, while the good bacteria survive.
Scientists at the University of Zurich study the biology of phages. They collect phages from the environment, test them in the laboratory to select only those phages that kill a specific type of bacteria, and optimize them if needed. Phages are cultivated in several hundred-liter volumes and purified for further use.
Phages can, for example, be added to food to kill bacteria that cause food poisoning without affecting the good bacteria in our gut. The resulting food is 100% natural, with no change in texture or taste.
If you want to know more, please check the project’s website.
See more of our medical animations here.