SGU Science Picture of the Week: Bacteriophage
What you are looking at is a representation of virus particle called a bacteriophage.
I know, it doesn’t even look remotely biological, right? It seems more at home as part of an alien machine invasion or a nanotech nightmare nanobot.
The specific breed of phage pictured here is called an Enterobacteria Phage T4 which specializes in attacking E. Coli bacteria (Go Phage!). They land on a relatively brobdingnagian bacterium and inject a packet of dna into it. This viral dna turns the bacterium into a phage factory sometimes causing it to burst open to release this newly-born army. If you’re thinking that this natural ability of phages to target and destroy bacteria makes them a useful anti-bacterial agent you’d be correct. In fact, Russia and France have used bacteriophages for almost 100 years as a type of antibiotic.
They are not authorized for use on humans anywhere else but they are used to kill bacteria often found on food such as Listeria. I expect we may see their use expanded as multi-drug resistant bacteria become more widespread and terrifying.
Since these undead viral-ninjas are tailored specifically to one and only one species of bacteria they are incredibly diverse and incredibly numerous. So much so that they are among the most numerous entities in earth’s biosphere. Billions or even trillions could exist in a single drop of water.
The image you see here won honorable mention in the National Science Foundation’s 2010 Best Science Pictures and Visualizations contest. The credit for this image goes to Jonathan Heras of Equinox Graphics Ltd who did not even believe they were real when he first saw them depicted until he looked at their microscopic images.
Image Credits: Jonathan Heras, Equinox Graphics Ltd.