Phage Directory ( An origin story

When Twitter told me last week that my former next-door lab neighbour just mailed phages to a dying girl, I actually started believing that my research might mean something. Not eventually, but today.

I used to think phage researchers like me were meant to do plaque assays in a lab for a few decades, while “other people out there, in 50 years, maybe” would sift through the information I would eventually publish and use it to cure people of bacterial infections. I’d gotten comfortable with the idea of doing research for the sake of research. I’d become proud of my patience and my willingness to do science without needing it to help people. I thought this made me a good scientist.

My thinking started to change when I heard the story of Tom Patterson, the patient cured last year in San Diego of his A. baumannii infection following phage therapy. The part that really got to me was how his treatment was essentially crowd-sourced in an effort led by his wife, Steffanie Strathdee (@chngin_the_wrld).

Fast forward to a week and a half ago, when I noticed that Steffanie’s phage-sourcing efforts were back in full force. This time, she was working to save 25-year-old Mallory Smith from drug-resistant B. cepacia. This time, however, I was watching it in real time. She used hashtags and @mentions to ask researchers to send phages. She used caps lock to emphasize urgency.

I had a fleeting thought about texting my friend from Jon Dennis’ lab at the University of Alberta, because I knew they worked on B. cepacia. Instead, I thought, those hashtags aren’t for grad students like me or for labs like ours. Those messages are for companies that make lots and lots of phages using proprietary processes, for labs with ties to hospitals that work with patients, for government organizations like the US Navy and its phage library.

And then I saw Steffanie tweet a thank-you to @JonDennis8 for sending phages, and I realized that the kind of researcher she was trying to reach was me.

I shared all of this with my friend Jan Zheng, who specializes in how humans interact with computers. He designs ways of simplifying this experience. Upon seeing the Twitter trail and hearing about Mallory and Tom’s stories and the phage hunts associated with both, he excitedly proclaimed that he knew how we could simplify this experience too.

We spent the next several days creating Phage Directory (, a website designed to help treat patients infected by drug-resistant pathogens with safe and effective doses of phages, on a last-resort, emergency basis through the FDA’s Emergency Investigational New Drug process.

Although phage therapy is not yet ready to be adopted by mainstream Western medicine, the FDA is ready for phage therapy on a case-by-case basis as long as antibiotics are tried first. To paraphrase what Scott Stibitz of the FDA said at the Evergreen Phage Meeting this year: those of us who have been repeating the trope that the FDA is an enemy of phage therapy should stop, because we’re wrong.

A major part of what Jan and I envision that this directory will do is to serve as a searchable resource and alert service to help patient advocates find phage researchers who are willing to send phages to a patient in need, on an individual, on-demand basis. We also hope to connect these researchers with those willing to test the host range of these phages on patient isolates and then to propagate and purify promising candidates prior to shipment to the patient.

Two days into building Phage Directory, we found out that Mallory had passed away. This heart wrenching news spurred us on, and we launched the site last Friday. We made a Twitter account and began reaching out to phage researchers and others who might be interested in the cause.

Now, a week after its launch, we have reached 100 followers on Twitter (mostly phage biologists) and have been talking to Steffanie about how a directory like this would optimally function. She put us in touch with Tobi Nagel of Phages for Global Health, who was excited to talk with us. Phages for Human Applications Group Europe (P.H.A.G.E.) has encouraged its members to sign up, and several of them have. Sylvain Moineau and the Félix d’Hérelle Center at Université Laval in Canada are also on board.

On Monday of this week, we found out that Mallory’s parents were thrilled to hear about Phage Directory, and want to help us help other patients in honour of their daughter. On Tuesday, the journalist at STAT News who wrote the original article detailing Steffanie’s efforts to find phages for Mallory interviewed Jan and me for his next story.

What began as an offhand comment that we should make “PhageBook” has become a very real and impassioned effort to identify the barriers to treating patients with phages, particularly in the West, and to systematically design ways to overcome these barriers. Especially at this stage, we are open to suggestions on how best to put together this resource.

In addition to its role as a phage researcher directory and virtual phage library, we envision Phage Directory becoming a resource for physicians and other patient advocates seeking to learn about the actions required to initiate phage therapy in a patient, the associated legal implications, and the particular phages and treatment strategies available.

We see it becoming a communication platform that facilitates and organizes secure exchanges between doctors and researchers, before, during and after phage treatment, e.g. which phages should be tried first or next? How does susceptibility to each phage and antibiotic evolve over the course of each treatment iteration?

We see it providing the public with an interactive lens into the world of phage therapy, where patients and families can identify and communicate with phage researchers and physicians willing to facilitate phage therapy.

We see it helping to build legitimacy and transparency into the process of phage therapy to help regulatory agencies gain confidence in its feasibility.

Overall, we see Phage Directory as an action-oriented tool that will break down barriers to phage therapy by providing a multi-stakeholder communication platform designed to simplify and streamline the process.

Since I’ve joined our remarkable phage community, I’ve become increasingly conscious of its deep commitment to bringing phage therapy to modern medicine. I hope that many of you will add yourselves to Phage Directory and that you’ll sign up for the alert service so you can be contacted in the event that a patient needs your phages.

Finally, I hope that you’ll spread the word about this initiative so we can all take advantage of the momentum generated from Tom and Mallory’s recent public battles to put what we’ve collectively been writing and thinking about for years into a new kind of action.


Virologica Sinica special issue on “Phages and Therapy”

Note: Open access to this special issue no longer appears to be available…

2015, Volume 30, Issue 1


Bacteriophages, revitalized after 100 years in the shadow of antibiotics [pubmed]
Hongping Wei
In this issue, readers will not only find that bacteriophage research is a booming field but also learn about the diverse applications currently being explored for bacteriophages. The biggest driving force behind these applications is the serious threat of bacterial antibiotic resistance that is emerging in the current era.


Bacteriophage secondary infection [pubmed]
Stephen T Abedon
Phages are credited with having been first described in what we now, officially, are commemorating as the 100th. anniversary of their discovery. Those one-hundred years of phage history have not been lacking in excitement, controversy, and occasional convolution. One such complication is the concept of secondary infection, which can take on multiple forms with myriad consequences. The terms secondary infection and secondary adsorption, for example, can be used almost synonymously to describe virion interaction with already phage-infected bacteria, and which can result in what are described as superinfection exclusion or superinfection immunity. The phrase secondary infection also may be used equivalently to superinfection or coinfection, with each of these terms borrowed from medical microbiology, and can result in genetic exchange between phages, phage-on-phage parasitism, and various partial reductions in phage productivity that have been termed mutual exclusion, partial exclusion, or the depressor effect. Alternatively, and drawing from epidemiology, secondary infection has been used to describe phage population growth as that can occur during active phage therapy as well as upon phage contamination of industrial ferments. Here primary infections represent initial bacterial population exposure to phages while consequent phage replication can lead to additional, that is, secondary infections of what otherwise are not yet phage-infected bacteria. Here I explore the varying meanings and resultant ambiguity that has been associated with the term secondary infection. I suggest in particular that secondary infection, as distinctly different phenomena, can in multiple ways infl uence the success of phage-mediated biocontrol of bacteria, also known as, phage therapy.

Bacteriophage therapy against Enterobacteriaceae [pubmed]
Youqiang Xu, Yong Liu, Yang Liu, Jiangsen Pei, Su Yao, Chi Cheng
The Enterobacteriaceae are a class of gram-negative facultative anaerobic rods, which can cause a variety of diseases, such as bacteremia, septic arthritis, endocarditis, osteomyelitis, lower respiratory tract infections, skin and soft-tissue infections, urinary tract infections, intra-abdominal infections and ophthalmic infections, in humans, poultry, animals and fi sh. Disease caused by Enterobacteriaceae cause the deaths of millions of people every year, resulting in enormous economic loss. Drug treatment is a useful and effi cient way to control Enterobacteriaceae infections. However, with the abuse of antibiotics, drug resistance has been found in growing number of Enterobacteriaceae infections and, as such, there is an urgent need to find new methods of control. Bacteriophage therapy is an efficient alternative to antibiotics as it employs a different antibacterial mechanism. This paper summarizes the history of bacteriophage therapy, its bacterial lytic mechanisms, and the studies that have focused on Enterobacteriaceae and bacteriophage therapy.

Survival and proliferation of the lysogenic bacteriophage CTXΦ in Vibrio cholerae [pubmed]
Fenxia Fan, Biao Kan
The lysogenic phage CTXΦ of Vibrio cholerae can transfer the cholera toxin gene both horizontally (inter-strain) and vertically (cell proliferation). Due to its diversity in form and species, the complexity of regulatory mechanisms, and the important role of the infection mechanism in the production of new virulent strains of V. cholerae, the study of the lysogenic phage CTXΦ has attracted much attention. Based on the progress of current research, the genomic features and their arrangement, the host-dependent regulatory mechanisms of CTXΦ phage survival, proliferation and propagation were reviewed to further understand the phage’s role in the evolutionary and epidemiological mechanisms of V. cholerae.

Phage lytic enzymes: a history [pubmed]
David Trudil
There are many recent studies regarding the efficacy of bacteriophage-related lytic enzymes: the enzymes of ‘bacteria-eaters’ or viruses that infect bacteria. By degrading the cell wall of the targeted bacteria, these lytic enzymes have been shown to efficiently lyse Gram-positive bacteria without affecting normal fl ora and non-related bacteria. Recent studies have suggested approaches for lysing Gram-negative bacteria as well (Briersa Y, et al., 2014). These enzymes include: phage-lysozyme, endolysin, lysozyme, lysin, phage lysin, phage lytic enzymes, phageassociated enzymes, enzybiotics, muralysin, muramidase, virolysin and designations such as Ply, PAE and others. Bacteriophages are viruses that kill bacteria, do not contribute to antimicrobial resistance, are easy to develop, inexpensive to manufacture and safe for humans, animals and the environment. The current focus on lytic enzymes has been on their use as anti-infectives in humans and more recently in agricultural research models. The initial translational application of lytic enzymes, however, was not associated with treating or preventing a specifi c disease but rather as an extraction method to be incorporated in a rapid bacterial detection assay (Bernstein D, 1997).The current review traces the translational history of phage lytic enzymes-from their initial discovery in 1986 for the rapid detection of group A streptococcus in clinical specimens to evolving applications in the detection and prevention of disease in humans and in agriculture.


Selection of phages and conditions for the safe phage therapy against Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections [pubmed]
Victor Krylov, Olga Shaburova, Elena Pleteneva, Sergey Krylov, Alla Kaplan, Maria Burkaltseva, Olga Polygach, Elena Chesnokova
The emergence of multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens forced us to consider the phage therapy as one of the possible alternative approaches to treatment. The purpose of this paper is to consider the conditions for the safe, long-term use of phage therapy against various infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. We describe the selection of the most suitable phages, their most effective combinations and some approaches for the rapid recognition of phages unsuitable for use in therapy. The benefi ts and disadvantages of the various different approaches to the preparation of phage mixtures are considered, together with the specifi c conditions that are required for the safe application of phage therapy in general hospitals and the possibilities for the development of personalized phage therapy.

Molecular dissection of phage lysin PlySs2: integrity of the catalytic and cell wall binding domains is essential for its broad lytic activity [pubmed]
Yanling Huang, Hang Yang, Junping Yu, Hongping Wei
The novel phage lysin PlySs2, is reported to be highly active against various bacteria, including staphylococci, streptococci and Listeria. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying its broad lytic spectrum remain to be established. In the present study, the lytic activity of the catalytic domain (CD, PlySc) and binding specificity of the cell wall binding domain (CBD, PlySb) of PlySs2 were examined. Our results showed that PlySc alone maintains very limited lytic activity. Enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP)-fused PlySb displayed high binding affinity to the streptococcal strains tested, including S. suis, S. dysgalactiae, and S. agalactiae, but not staphylococci, supporting its utility as a good CBD donor for streptococcal-targeted lysin engineering. EGFP-fused intact PlySs2 similarly displayed high affinity for streptococci, but not staphylococci. Notably, four truncated PlySb fragments showed no binding capacity. These fi ndings collectively indicate that integrity of the PlySc and PlySb domains is an essential determinant of the broad lytic activity of PlySs2.

Isolation and characterization of glacier VMY22, a novel lytic cold-active bacteriophage of Bacillus cereus [pubmed]
Xiuling Ji, Chunjing Zhang, Yuan Fang, Qi Zhang, Lianbing Lin, Bing Tang, Yunlin Wei
As a unique ecological system with low temperature and low nutrient levels, glaciers are considered a “living fossil” for the research of evolution. In this work, a lytic cold-active bacteriophage designated VMY22 against Bacillus cereus MYB41-22 was isolated from Mingyong Glacier in China, and its characteristics were studied. Electron microscopy revealed that VMY22 has an icosahedral head (59.2 nm in length, 31.9 nm in width) and a tail (43.2 nm in length). Bacteriophage VMY22 was classifi ed as a Podoviridae with an approximate genome size of 18 to 20 kb. A one-step growth curve revealed that the latent and the burst periods were 70 and 70 min, respectively, with an average burst size of 78 bacteriophage particles per infected cell. The pH and thermal stability of bacteriophage VMY22 were also investigated. The maximum stability of the bacteriophage was observed to be at pH 8.0 and it was comparatively stable at pH 5.0-9.0. As VMY22 is a cold-active bacteriophage with low production temperature, its characterization and the relationship between MYB41-22 and Bacillus cereus bacteriophage deserve further study.


Variation of resistance and infectivity between Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 and bacteriophage Ф2 and its therapeutic implications [pubmed]
Hanchen Chen, Guohua Chen
Studies of the coevolutionary dynamics between Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 and bacteriophage Ф can explore host resistance and parasite infectivity with applications in the ecological and therapeutic fields.Coevolutionary dynamics determine the efficacy of phage-based therapy. In the study described here, bacterial resistance and phage infectivity fluctuated with culturetime, perhaps resulting from random mutation and temporaladaptation, which reminds us of the necessity toconsider evolutionary mechanisms when applying phageto treat bacterial infections.

A novel transposable Mu-like prophage in Bacillus alcalophilus CGMCC 1.3604 (ATCC 27647) [pubmed]
Junjie Yang, Yimeng Kong, Xuan Li, Sheng Yang
In this letter, we provide evidence for the first transposable prophage BalMu-1 in Bacilli. The transposable prophage (BalMu-1, Genbank No. KP063902 and KP063903) was identified in Bacillus alcalophilus CGMCC 1.3604(ATCC 27647) through high throughput genome sequencing and PCR-dideoxy chain-termination(Sanger) sequencing.

Isolation and characterization of a lytic bacteriophage φKp-lyy15 of Klebsiella pneumoniae [pubmed]
Yinyin Lu, Hongyan Shi, Zhe Zhang, Fang Han, Jinghua Li, Yanbo Sun
In conclusion, the lytic bacteriophage φKp-lyy belonging to the Siphoviridae family specific for K. pneumonia was isolated and characterized. φKp-lyy displayed a short latent period, stability to a wide pH rang, high thermal resistance, and lytic activity toward a relatively broad range of K. pneumonia isolates. Thus, phage φKplyy should be considered as a candidate for inclusion in phage cocktails to control K. pneumoniae-associated nosocomial infections.

Expression and purification of recombinant lyase gp17 from the LSB-1 phage in Escherichia coli [pubmed]
Taiwu Wang, Hui Lin, Lu Zhang, Guorong Huang, Long Wu, Lei Yu, Hongyan Xiong
In this study, we successfully expressed and purified the recombinant gp17 protein from the LSB-1 phage and also confirmed its bacteriostatic effect. Assays also showed that the recombinant enzyme was soluble and had signifi cant lyase effects on the host bacterium, EIEC8401. A preliminary study demonstrated that the enzyme did not have inhibitory effects on other strains (unpublished data), which might indicate that the exclusive antibacterial effect of gp17 on EIEC8401 could have a special significance in practical application in bacterial therapy.

T4-like coliphage φKAZ14 virulent to pathogenic and extended spectrum β-lactamase-producing Escherichia coli of poultry origin [pubmed]
Kaikabo Adamu Ahmad, Abdulkarim Sabo Mohanmmed, Faridah Abas, Sieo Chin Chin
The aim of the present study was to isolate bacteriophages for the pre-harvest biocontrol of APEC 01 and ESBL-producing E. coli in chicken, in order to mitigate the risk of these pathogens to the food chain. Isolation and characterization of the T4-like coliphage KAZ14, lytic to APEC 01 and ESBL-producing E. coli, is reported and discussed.

Isolation and complete genome sequence of a novel virulent mycobacteriophage, CASbig [pubmed]
Tieshan Teng, Junping Yu, Hang Yang, Hongping Wei
In this study, we report the isolation and the complete genome of a novel mycobacteriophage, CASbig, which has an icosahedral head (diameter 50 ± 2 nm) and a long, non-contractile tail (length 160 ± 5 nm) with transverse striations, ending in a small knob. The length of the tail includes the middle of the baseplate, and the head measurements were taken between opposite apices. These characteristics indicate that the phage belongs to the family Siphoviridae morphotypes.


Experience of the Eliava Institute in bacteriophage therapy [pubmed]
Mzia Kutateladze
The rapid propagation of multidrug resistant bacterial strains is leading to renewed interest in bacteriophage therapy. With challenges in the treatment of bacterial infections, it is essential for people worldwide to understand how alternative approaches, such as bacteriophages, could be used to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria. The Eliava Institute of Bacteriophages, Microbiology and Virology (Tbilisi, Georgia) is arguably the most famous institution in the world focused on the isolation, study, and selection of phages active against a variety of bacterial pathogens.

Phages vs. Potato Soft Rot

Stephen T. Abedon

Department of Microbiology – The Ohio State University – –


Here’s an interesting news item, from only a couple of years back (April 4, 2013): “Taking a greener approach to managing potato spoilage”

Here are some quotes:

The innovative, eco-friendly product is called Biolyse and works by using naturally-occurring bacteriophage

APS chief executive Dr Alison Blackwell says now the product is proven to work on a large scale in potatoes, there is potential for it to be rolled out to other areas within the food processing industry.

Dundee-based APS has been developing bacteriophage since 2004.

Three years ago, APS received a Scottish Enterprise Research and Development grant and was then able to work closely with a team from Branston’s Abernethy site in Perthshire, Scotland, to identify the bacteria causing rots and develop a suitable bacteriophage.

Biolyse was launched in the Abernethy factory in November 2011 and rolled out across Branston’s other two sites in Lincolnshire and Somerset in 2012. The product is also used by QV Foods and Albert Bartlett.

There is a consistent five to tenfold reduction in rots pre and post bacteriophage treatment.

Installing the application equipment for Biolyse cost about £10,000 and was fairly simple, according to Kevin Imrie, site manager at Abernethy.

Anybody have any idea how this product currently is doing?

Here is APS Biocontrol’s web site:

Further reading:

T4-related bacteriophage LIMEstone isolates for the control of soft rot on potato caused by ‘Dickeya solani’

Phage-Mediated Biocontrol of Plant Pathogens (2001 to “current”)

Phage therapy for plant disease control

Bacteriophage Ecology and Plants


E. coli, CRISPR, Biases in Our Understanding of Phage Ecology, and Possible Implications for Phage Therapy

Stephen T. Abedon

Department of Microbiology – The Ohio State University – –


We’re all biased by what we know best and the link below discusses why, historically as well as microbiologically, we all “grew up” with the notion that envelope mutations are the primary means by which phage resistance evolves in bacteria. So thank you E. coli (I state with sarcasm):

What, I ask, are the implications for phage therapy of resistance mechanisms to specific phages that are essentially cost free and, at least arguably, Lamarckian as well, i.e., as due to CRISPR? For well-trained phage-therapy teams, I suspect not much. This is because, whether employing cocktails or monophages, the intention generally will be to hit bacterial targets hard and with whatever it takes to clear the infection, such as to switching phages during monophage therapy if resistance is noted.

But for monophages in the hands of less well-trained individuals, e.g., over-the-counter phage formulations or in the hands of poorly trained or regulated clinicians, the potential for development and then transmission of fully fit pathogens that nonetheless are fully resistant to a specific monophage could be fairly high. Importantly, and as relevant to the cited E. coi-CRISPR story, this issue may be more relevant for some pathogens, i.e., those with intact CRISPR systems, than it is for others.

So perhaps we can add inhibition of the potential for therapy-induced evolution of phage resistance among pathogens – as could then be transmitted across affected human communities – as an additional advantage of  prêt-à-porter (phage cocktails) versus sur-mesure (monophage therapy), while still retaining an argument for sur-mesure particularly among highly experienced phage therapists.

As we note in Chan and Abedon (2012), I nevertheless don’t buy arguments that spontaneously occurring phage host range mutations can be counted on in situ to counter bacterial evolution to phage resistance whether in the context of phage cocktails or instead monotherapy. From p. 19 of that publication:

A further consideration is that just as cocktails of phages may be thwarted in their ability to target low densities of phage-resistant bacteria, particularly given active treatment, these concerns should be even greater if one is relying on in situ phage evolution to supply resistance-countering phages… The reason for this is that the necessary host-range mutant phage types will be present in even lower densities than the phages explicitly found in cocktails. These same concerns may also be seen even in the absence of spatial structure so long as those phages within a cocktail that are amplified in situ, that is, in the course of active treatment, are not the same phages to which bacterial phage-resistant mutants are sensitive… Active therapy even with phage cocktails thus may be inherently incompatible with early interference with the evolution of bacterial resistance to phages.


Phage cocktails nevertheless should be better suited than monophages for dealing with evolving bacterial resistance to phages simply because cocktails inherently possess greater total numbers of phage particles that display divergent host ranges. On the other hand, the generation of cocktails of phages that display divergent host ranges – but where those phages nevertheless have been derived from a common genetic “platform” – might be expected to perform little better than monophages in the face of CRISPR-mediated phage resistance in target bacteria.

Further (Phage Therapy) Reading:

Chan, B. K., S. T. Abedon, and C. Loc-Carrillo. 2013. Phage cocktails and the future of phage therapy. Future.Microbiol. 8:769-783. [PubMed]

Chan, B. K. and S. T. Abedon. 2012. Phage therapy pharmacology: phage cocktails. Adv.Appl.Microbiol.  78:1-23. [PubMed]

Pirnay, J. P., V. D. De, G. Verbeken, M. Merabishvili, N. Chanishvili, M. Vaneechoutte, M. Zizi, G. Laire, R. Lavigne, I. Huys, G. Van den Mooter, A. Buckling, L. Debarbieux, F. Pouillot, J. Azeredo, E. Kutter, A. Dublanchet, A. Gorski, and R. Adamia. 2011. The phage therapy paradigm: prêt-à-porter or sur-mesure? Pharm.Res 28:934-937. [PubMed]

Importance of Specificity

Stephen T. Abedon

Department of Microbiology – The Ohio State University – –


This article is not yet fully out but certainly is intriguing:

The title is “Disease-Specific Alterations in the Enteric Virome in Inflammatory Bowel Disease” by Norman et al.

The basic premise is that phages may very well be knocking out beneficial bacteria, in the gut, resulting in disease.

Here is a synopsis:

To me what’s particularly interesting about this study, what little currently can be easily accessed, is that it actually can be viewed as an argument for the benefits of phage specificity in the guise of phage-mediated biocontrol of bacteria, i.e., phage therapy as applied clinically.

Specifically (if you will pardon the pun), when phages are employed in phage therapy, there is at best an only low potential that beneficial bacteria will be directly affected because phage host ranges tend to be quite narrow, typically at best spanning a single bacterial species and potentially some members of closely related genera. This contrasts with the typical antibiotic, which can be much less discriminatory in its impact on normal microflora, potentially resulting in bacterial superinfections.

Indeed, some antibiotics even can induce prophages, resulting in antibiotics potentially giving rise to excessive phage numbers that can impact beneficial bacteria. It is even possible for antibiotics to have an indirect impact by killing off certain bacteria that might then allow an overgrowth of beneficial bacteria which in turn could result in an achievement of so-called “winner” densities. Excessively high densities of specific bacterial types may then be followed by phage-induced reductions in the presence of these beneficial bacteria to below those levels present prior to antibiotic exposure (and then potentially overgrowth of harmful bacteria).

Sure these scenarios are complex and the latter certainly speculative. But the bottom line nonetheless is this: Some phages are bad – and we know this already since many phages carry bacterial virulence factor genes – but not all phages are bad, and those phages that are good in many or most instances probably give rise to somewhat less negative impact on the body than the majority of antibiotics.

Celebrate the diversity of phages, and their specificity!

Phage-Mediated Biocontrol of Plant Pathogens (2001 to “current”)

Stephen T. Abedon

Department of Microbiology – The Ohio State University – –


I gave the opening talk at the 2nd International Symposium, “New Stages of Phage Biocontrol of Plant Diseases”, held September 18, 2014, at Hiroshima University, Japan. Though my talk was at best peripheral to the emphasis of the symposium, i.e., watch here, I did strive to get into the spirit of things by tracking down references to phage-mediated biocontrol of plant pathogens. Clearly I did not succeed in finding every last one of these references, but nevertheless I probably IDed the ones that “everybody” in the field knows about, and maybe perhaps then some. I’ve sorted these by year plus have indicated the target pathogen as well as the disease that is caused by that pathogen. Where possible I’ve provided a link to the article, though note that I’m providing no promises regarding your potential to find all of these articles online for free! Shown only are experimental articles, and note that I have not confirmed the validity of many of these. So if you know better, or can otherwise help by adding to this list, please let me know!

Here are those papers published in the Twenty-First Century (2001 and newer) up to at least the date of my talk:

Continue reading

Phages & Flamingos

For my first post on this blog, I wanted to share the following paper with you, The virus’s tooth: cyanophages affect an African flamingo population in a bottom-up cascade (see below). It captured my attention after Dr. Brian Jones visited my lab earlier in 2014 where he gave a lecture on flamingos in Kenya (Lesser Flamingo, Phoeniconaias minor). As an extremophile specialist he had been invited to a workshop organized by the Kenyan government to find out why the flamingos have disappeared from Lake Nakuru, a local alkaline lake. According to Brian, many theories were offered up during the workshop, but none of them with sufficient evidence, mainly because of a lack of long-term monitoring of the lakes’ ecosystem.

The following paper presents a possible explanation: Phages caused it! The researchers hypothesize that cyanophages are at the root of a bottom-up cascade causing the flamingo’s main food source, the cyanobacterium Arthrospira fusiformis, to be broken down causing massive drops in flamingo numbers. 

A question of where did the flamingos go, was partly answered accidently at a sampling expedition of my lab, the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics (CMEG, University of Pretoria). Each year a bunch of researchers of CMEG and collaborators make a trip to the Namib Desert to investigate the local arid ecosystems. When driving to the closest town, Walvis Bay, about a 90 minute away located at the Atlantic Ocean, many people stop at the actual bay to watch huge gatherings of the Lesser Flamingo. Sadly, we have no records of how many years the flamingos have been gathering there and if there stay there year-round or not.

The virus’s tooth: cyanophages affect an African flamingo population in a bottom-up cascade

Link to the article


Trophic cascade effects occur when a food web is disrupted by loss or significant reduction of one or more of its members. In East African Rift Valley lakes, the Lesser Flamingo is on top of a short food chain. At irregular intervals, the dominance of their most important food source, the cyanobacterium Arthrospira fusiformis, is interrupted. Bacteriophages are known as potentially controlling photoautotrophic bacterioplankton. In Lake Nakuru (Kenya), we found the highest abundance of suspended viruses ever recorded in a natural aquatic system. We document that cyanophage infection and the related breakdown of A. fusiformis biomass led to a dramatic reduction in flamingo abundance. This documents that virus infection at the very base of a food chain can affect, in a bottom-up cascade, the distribution of end consumers. We anticipate this as an important example for virus-mediated cascading effects, potentially occurring also in various other aquatic food webs. 


Phage Therapy Case Study from 1936

Stephen T. Abedon

Department of Microbiology – The Ohio State University – –


This article can’t be found via a PubMed search but can be found here: It is not free, but most of it can be found on that page. The reference is Morrison, S., Gardner, R.E. (1936). The Treatment of a Lung Abscess due to Bacillus coli with a Lytic Filtrate. JAMA 107(1):33-34. It is a fascinating account because it walks you through the case in some detail plus presents both efficacy and side effects, neither of which can be unquestionably attributed to the phage itself since the formulation used was not purified. Still, pretty amazing stuff, and I quote:

N, S., a woman, aged 22, who had previously been in excellent health, suddenly experienced a severe diffuse abdominal pain, Aug. 5, 1934… On the third day the patient’s condition became critical and she was rushed to the Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital, where an emergency operation was performed by Dr. L. H. Seaton. When the abdomen was opened a gangrenous appendix with generalized peritonitis was disclosed. The remainder of the appendix was removed and drains were inserted…

[Approximately one month later,] after an excruciating pain, examination disclosed massive collapse of the left lung. During the subsequent few days slight signs of partial return of pulmonary function were observed, but relapse followed. Clinical and x-ray signs of effusion developed. Aspiration was performed September 12 and 500 cc. of very heavy purulent material with a foul and typical colon odor was obtained. A culture of the pus at this time yielded only Bacillus coli. Three days later, because the material was too thick to be aspirated, rib resection was done with a virtual gush of pus. A bronchial fistula developed shortly after the rib resection and the patient was expectorat¬ ing the same kind of material as that which drained from the resection wound. The appearance of the area around the resection opening was necrotic and “mossy” and failed to show any improvement on local irrigations with 1,000 cc. of saline solution twice a day. Digital examination through the resection wound disclosed many walled off abscesses surrounded by necrotic tissue. In view of the hectic fever and the general condition, which indicated toxic absorption, an especially resistant abscess which failed to open was incised by an approach between the ribs just above the rib resection. A drain was inserted and in a few days healing took place.

A second sample of pus was collected at this time (September 16) and another pure culture of colon bacillus isolated which was fairly readily lysed by a bacteriophage that was active against various strains of B. coli isolated from other sources.

After a cutaneous test September 20 of 0.1 cc. of the lytic filtrate twelve hours previously had given little or no reaction, and after irrigating the chest with 1 liter of physiologic solution of sodium chloride, 1 ounce (30 cc.) of the phage was instilled and allowed to remain for two hours. This was followed saline irrigation and the wound covered by a dressing saturated with the bacteriophage. The following day the observation was made that the discharge had become thin and watery and had lost its offensive character for the first time since the resection was done five days before, even though saline irrigations had been administered twice daily during this five day period. A second and equally remarkable change had occurred at the resection wound itself, where the mossy, necrotic character was entirely changed to a clean, fresh, healthy appearing incision.

Since the first use of bacteriophage had given such excellent results, a second application seemed indicated, and therefore the procedure was repeated. However, within ten minutes a violent generalized rose-colored urticaria appeared and the patient complained of nausea and vomited. The bacteriophage was drained immediately and the chest irrigated with large quantities of saline solution. Epinephrine was administered…

After such a marked allergic reaction to the bacteriophage had occurred it was decided to discontinue bacteriophage instillations and continue only with saline irrigations and external dressings saturated with bacteriophage. The dressings of bacteriophage were continued for a week along with irrigations of physiologic solution of sodium chloride. Throughout this period the resection wound maintained its healthy normal appearance and the discharge remained clear, watery and nonodorous. The temperature reached 102.2 F. each day for the thirteen days prior to the urticarial reaction. On that day the reading was 103.2 F. after the reaction. After this reaction the temperature did not go above 102.2 F.

The patient’s general condition was remarkably improved and within six weeks she was able to leave the hospital. The appendiceal wound had healed but the fever, less hectic in type, continued as well as the thin nonodorous drainage. At home the fever gradually subsided as well as the drainage, and heal¬ ing was practically complete toward the end of December.

Whether the bacteriophage acted as a specific or indirectly as a Synergist to antibody formation cannot be stated.

Thus, no proof of explicitly phage-mediated efficacy, no proof that the condition would not have spontaneously reversed on its own, and no controls, but instead a remarkable result, with an indication as well of reason for caution regarding potential immunological reactions perhaps associated with the lack of formulation purification. Interesting indeed!

Bacteriophage-based synthetic biology for the study of infectious diseases

An interesting new short paper out of Tim Lu’s synthetic biology lab showcasing what bacteriophage can bring to the table,

Bacteriophage-based synthetic biology for the study of infectious diseases

Robert J Citorik, Mark Mimee, and Timothy K Lu Published 2014 in Curr. Opin Microbiol. DOI: 10.1016/j.mib.2014.05.022

Since their discovery, bacteriophages have contributed enormously to our understanding of molecular biology as model systems. Furthermore, bacteriophages have provided many tools that have advanced the fields of genetic engineering and synthetic biology. Here, we discuss bacteriophage-based technologies and their application to the study of infectious diseases. New strategies for engineering genomes have the potential to accelerate the design of novel phages as therapies, diagnostics, and tools. Though almost a century has elapsed since their discovery, bacteriophages continue to have a major impact on modern biological sciences, especially with the growth of multidrug-resistant bacteria and interest in the microbiome.

•Multidrug-resistant infections have sparked a renewed interest in bacteriophages.
•Synthetic biology has enabled technologies for next-generation phage engineering.
•Engineered phages and derived parts constitute a new antimicrobial paradigm.
•Bacteriophage-based reporters permit detection of specific pathogens.
•Components from phage form a core set of parts in the synthetic biology toolbox.

Bacteriophage - Synthetic Biology

A Quote or Two from Hoeflmayr (1963): “Inhalation Therapy Using Bacteriophages in Therapy-Resistant Infections”

Stephen T. Abedon

Department of Microbiology – The Ohio State University – –


I just came across this “report”, which can be found here:

This dates from 1963, I believe as a translation, and the full citation is “Inhalation Therapy Using Bacteriophages in Therapy-Resistant Infections”. Fortschritte der Biologischen Aerosol-Forschung-Jahren 1957-1961 (Progress of the Biological Aerosol Research-Years 1957-1961), pp. 403-409. See under “Further reading” for what presumably is the original and/or complete citation.

At any rate, this paper/chapter/publication/translation/report has some interesting passages.

In view of the growing resistance against antibiotics, it is vitally important that we try to find ways to counteract this development. … Farsighted clinicians warned us as long as 10 years ago, when we were still students, that we should not hastily treat any little infection with penicillin.
If we should discover any-new possibilities for treating infections, then we should look at these possibilities only from the angle that such a therapy would have to preclude the formation of resistance as much as possible, therapy with bacteriophages fills the requirement. The fact that this therapy has so far met with skepticism is due to the results which, until a few years ago, did not ome up to expectations
[Schaefer, W., “Contribution on Epidemic Control” Vol. 3, Hippocrates, Stuttgart, 1948]. If we try to track down the reason for the failure of the earlier bacteriophage therapy, we will find that this was mostly due to the biological properties of the phages.
Now it is important to know that the bacteriophage has high specificity. Therefore, therapy can be effective
only If the administered phage encounters its homologous bacterium.
The disadvantage of our earlier phage preparations was to be found not only in the inadequate breeding methods but above all in the fact that only about 1-2 phage strains were available. If we consider the large number of pathogenic bacteria strains, which play a role even in a very simple infection or which at least at times might play a role, then we would have to set up two requirements. First of all, in order to have a wide range of effectiveness, such a therapeutic substance would have to contain a large number of various phage strains. Second, it is necessary that phages which would come into consideration for therapy should have sufficient virulence with regard to pathogenic viruses.
We used the preparation (Diriphagen ® Dr. Heinz Haury Chemical Plant, Munich) because we believed that this preparation met the requirements we just set up. According to Information received, this reparation contains 180-200 different phage strains and thus has a broad spectrum of effectiveness. In addition, it also contains so-called aimed antimicrobics which act against those bacteria that reveal primary phage resistance. We might note here that both the phage components and the added microbics in every ampule are standardized and meet the requirements for biological standardisation as regards phage effect [Penso, G., and Ortali, V., Arch. belges Med. Soc., 1, 1959]. If we mention the two therapeutic components, that is the bacteriphages and aimed (directed) antimicrobics, we are really not fully describing the effects mechanism as such. We have a third factor here. What we are dealing with here is the stimulation of the inherent defenses of the body which are bound to be aroused and which are based on the following: In breeding phages and antimicrobics, the pathogenic microbes used for this purpose give rise to lysates. But these lysates are not eliminated; instead they are also fed into the body. They act like antigens and lead to the formation of antibodies which in turn are specifically directed against the bacteria to which lyntes were added [Glauser, H. A., Med. achr., 13, 420, 1959.]. This reaction requires a latency period of about 8-10 days. The value of this antibody formation is hard to estimate in the individual case. We can get some specific figures on this only if we determine the phagocytosis capability; but this must be done in the clinic. Any new therapy is very often impaired by the fact that we do not employ it until other, more familiar measures have failed. We must admlt that we did not use Deriphagen until we had some patients in whom other preparations had not produced success. This is further by reports from other authors who achieved surprisingly good results with this preparation [Cevey, M., Schweiz. Z. Tuberk. (Swiss Tuberculosis Joural),
15, 34, 1958; Corbelli, G., Bologna Med., 6, 57, 1959; Delacoste, P., Rev. suisse Med., August 1959; Schaefer, W., “Contribution on Epidemic Control” Vol. 3, Hippoprates, Stuttgart, 1948].

Figure 1 shows the result of our treatment. The first column shows the total number of all patients treated; then we have the number of patients cured which abounted to 55.1%; then we cow to those who showed substantial improvement and on the right we have those patients who did not improve as a result of therapy [34.8%].

The author notes, however, that there is a discrepancy between microbiological and clinical results. That is, patients apparently reported a return to healthfulness but this did not coincide with elimination of pathogen, which the author seems to suggest is a consequence of phage- resistant forms not being pathogenic.

The text in the PDF then essentially fades away, though the main text of the paper continues on for two more pages!

Further reading:

Hoeflmayr, J. (1962). Inhalationstherapie mit Bakteriophagen bei therapieresistenten Infektionen [Inhalation Therapy with Bacteriophages for Treatment-Resistant Infections]. Fortschritte der biologischen Aerosol-Forschung in den Jahren 1957–1961 [Advances in Biological Aerosols Research in the Years 1957–1961].  403-409. 1962. (I believe this is the original reference)

Abedon, S. T., Kuhl, S., Blasdel, R., Kutter, E. M. (2011). Phage Treatment of Human Infections. Bacteriophage 1(2): 66-85. [PubMed link] (this article provides further historical context on European use of phage therapy, though note that description of a German tradition in that article is completely lacking and so far as I am aware was unknown to the authors at the time of its writing)