Senior molecular biology major Jacob Hatch knows MRSA as the infection that took his dad’s leg. Hatch was thousands of miles away when Methicillin-ResistantStaphylococcus aureus decalcified the bones in his dad’s foot and lower leg, leading to an emergency amputation just below the knee. “It was really hard to hear the news–you never expect to hear someone in your family having to have a limb amputated,” Hatch said. “I felt helpless being so far away.”
Now, Hatch is exacting revenge on the bacteria. Researching alongside assistant professor of microbiology and molecular biology (and brother-in-law) Bradford Berges, Hatch is unlocking the power of a new MRSA-killer: bacteriophage. Phages are viruses that seek out, infect and kill bacteria. BYU researchers have successfully used them to save beehives from American foulbrood, and now they are harnessing their abilities to find MRSA and eliminate it.
In a recent study published in PLOS ONE, Hatch, Berges and colleagues demonstrate the ability of phages to decontaminate human MRSA bacteria from both hard surfaces (glass table top) and fabrics (lab coat). Berges and Hatch’s research is showing that phages kill more than 99 percent of MRSA pathogens. “And while phages kill off bacteria, they will never cause any problems to humans because it’s a virus that’s evolved to infect bacteria cells,” Berges said. “It’s never going to infect human cells–it’s not even a possibility.”
To date, the research team has identified six unique phage types that can kill MRSA.