What is a virus? Encompassed by a protein shell or coat, a virus particle is a nucleic acid (RNA or DNA). A virus, also known as a virion, is extremely small ranging from 15 to 25 nanometers in diameter. A number of viruses infect bacteria. These are known as bacteriophages or phages for a short.
Phages are believed to be the most prolific and widely distributed entities in the biosphere. They are found in all areas which play host to bacteria. Arguably the densest collection of phages is found in sea water. Phages have been used as an alternative to antibiotics in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc over the last 60 years. Phages are viewed as viable substitute to combat certain strains of bacteria that are resistant to many drugs.
The manner in which phages infect bacteria is by attaching themselves to specific receptors on the surface as a means to penetrating the host cell. This limits the ability of the bacteriophage to infect only those receptors to which they can bind and hence determines the range of bacteria on which they can act.
As soon as the properties of phages as antibacterial agents were discovered, their use was harnessed with varying success. But with the development of antibiotics several years later, the importance of phages in combating disease soon waned. However, as recently as the Second World War, phage therapy was extensively used by the Soviet Union to combat bacterial infections. This therapy has largely been ignored in the West.
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