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Sep 25, 2012

Zapping Zits with Viruses

  • The pimples that pockmark teenage faces may have finally met their match—11 viruses or phages that researchers say could serve as potential new ammunition in the war on acne.

    After isolating, then sequencing the genomes of 11 Propionibacterium acnes phages, a team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pittsburgh says it found similarities between the phages that may make them suitable against P. acnes, the bacterium believed responsible for the zits so many have long tried to zap.

    For decades, the only acne-killing options available have been benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics, and Accutane—and the admonition to avoid chocolate and fried foods.

    “We believe that these phages display numerous features that would make them ideal candidates for the development of a phage-based therapy for acne” beyond simply the natural ability of phages to kill specific bacteria, the research team concluded in a study published today in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

    Those similarities include genome length, percent guanine-cytosine content, nucleotide identity, and gene content. The phages shared more than 85% of their DNA—a lack of genetic diversity that according to the researchers makes resistance to phage-based antimicrobial therapy less likely to occur, they say.

    "There are two fairly obvious potential directions that could exploit this kind of research.” Graham F. Hatfull, Ph.D., Eberly Family Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Pittsburgh and the study’s corresponding author, said in a statement.

    “The first is the possibility of using the phages directly as a therapy for acne. The second is the opportunity to use phage-derived components for their activities," added Dr. Hatfull, who is also a professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

    One example of such a component: All of the phages carried a gene that produces the protein endolysin, which is thought to break down bacterial cell walls and kill the bacteria. Because such enzymes are used in other applications, Hatfull said, they might also be useful as an anti-acne therapeutic. Researchers plan to isolate that protein and compare its effectiveness against acne with the whole virus.


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