School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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Phage Virus

show/hide words to know

  • AIDS: a disease that causes the immune system not to function as well as it normally would... more
  • Antibiotic: a substance that weakens or destroys harmful bacteria inside the bodies of animals.
  • Bacteria: one-celled, microscopic organisms that grow and multiply everywhere on Earth. They can be either useful or harmful to animals... more
  • Bacteriophage: a virus that can infect bacterial cells... more
  • MRSA: short for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. A bacterium that is resistant to certain kinds of antibiotic and can cause infections that are difficult to treat... more
  • Virus: a super tiny germ that you can only see with a microscope. Viruses need a host in order to reproduce... more

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phagePhage virus

Viruses of many kinds exist on our planet. Some viruses infect humans. Some viral infections are minor and annoying, like the common cold. Others are severe and deadly, like AIDS.

Did you know that there are viruses that only infect bacteria? They are helpful and important. Scientists call them bacteriophages, which means “bacteria eaters.” We can call them phages for short.

Phages have the ability to make copies of themselves. To do this, they need a host cell. The phage attaches itself to a receptor on the surface of a bacterium’s cell wall. It is almost like a key searching for the lock that it fits.

Phage virus attack a bacteria cellOnce firmly attached, the phage then injects its genetic material into the host cell. Phages are like pirates. They take over the internal machinery bacteria use to reproduce. Once infected with a phage, a bacterium is reprogrammed to make copies of that phage.

Certain types of phages only infect certain kinds of bacteria, so they are named after the type of bacteria they infect. For example, the phages that infect E. coli bacteria are called coliphages.

Scientists are busy studying and finding ways to use phages to fight disease. They are using them to infect and destroy MRSA and other types of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.

 

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Additional images from Wikimedia via C. Goldsmith (HIV virus), and Webridge (bacteria cell).

virus

In the above image the HIV virus is attacking a cell in order to clone itself and spread.

book icon” title=“book icon Microbes

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virus

In the above image the HIV virus is attacking a cell in order to clone itself and spread.

book icon” title=“book icon Microbes

Story Behind the Scenes

 

For Teachers

Download comic as PDF packet
or
Get a MagCloud version for print or iPad

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.