Cornell University: Bacteriophage capable of eliminating E. coli in drinking water

Food scientists from Cornell University, New York, United States (U.S.), now can deploy a genetically engineered virus to detect and destroy E. Coli present in drinking water in areas hard to reach around the world.

According to new research published by The Royal Society of Chemistry in August 2018, this test can be administered locally.

“Drinking water contaminated with E. Coli is a major public health concern,” Dr Sam Nugen, PhD, associate professor of food science in Cornell University, explained to the Cornell Chronicle, the university’s official newspaper. “These phages can detect their host bacteria in sensitive situations, which means we can provide low-cost bacteria detection assays for field use – like food safety, animal health, bio-threat detection and medical diagnostics.”

T7NLC, the bacteriophage, possesses a gene for an enzyme known as NLuc luciferase, which is similar to the protein that lends fireflies their radiance. When fused to a carbohydrate binder, the bacteriophage can pinpoint E. Coli in water, starting up an infection and creating the fusion enzyme. When released, the enzyme will stick to cellulose fibres and become luminescent.

After the bacteriophage has bond itself to the E. Coli, the phage will shoot its own DNA into the bacteria, lysing – breaking open – the bacterium to release the enzyme alongside other enzymes to attack the E. Coli in the water.

“This bacteriophage detects an indicator,” Dr Nugen continued. “If the test determines the presence of E. Coli, then you should not be drinking the water, because it indicates possible fecal contamination.”

The research conducted by Cornell University was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Global Good.