The virus VP882, which had long ago sequenced in Taiwan as a part of a study of an outbreak of cholera, has now resurfaced and has the potential to make major waves in our addressing of the harmful bacteria. In recent years, biomagnification of harmful bacteria, in large part due to human waste, like Escherichia Coli and Vibrio Cholerae are having immediate and detrimental effects on our environment and in human health as well. For example, a significant amount of produce circulating in the United States has been contaminated with Escherichia Coli causing many to contract Shiga toxin-prducing E. coli infection (STEC) which, as according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), can causes “severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting”.
Our problem today is that the production of bacteria-specific responses to infection are difficult to produce and become costly as a result. Most of our anti-bacterials today target bacteria-made toxins, in order to restore affected G-Protein cell signaling function. Unfortunately, this treatment may negatively impact the integral human microbiome. An alternative way of countering bacterial infections is through use of phage therapy. This treatment is much more specific, bringing less harm to the host organism, and involves viruses to enter and reproduce in bacterial cells, eventually causing them to lyse, thus killing them. While objectively this process seems far superior than the current general treatment, too often the infective bacteria remains unknown, which as M.I.T. Professor Mark Mimee discusses in the Scientific American article on the VP882 virus, forces doctors to prescribe “a cocktails of different phages. But manufacturing cocktails and adhering to drug regulations is too expensive.” Then enters the VP882 virus.
The VP882 virus works just as most other bacteriophages: the virus uses bacteria as hosts for their reproduction, and cause them bacteria cells to lyse, after they have hijacked a given bacterium’s reproductive mechanisms. There are two things, though which make this virus special in the realm of bacteriophages. VP882 has the ability to sense bacterial cell communication and is a very simple structure, similar to a plasmid. This virus’s discovery can in part be credited to a coincidence. A student at Princeton, Justin Silpe, in his study of a molecule, DPO, which is integral in bacteria cell signaling, specifically quorum sensing, ran across this surprising virus which was sequenced in the presence of DPO. What he and his professor, Bonnie Bassler, found is that this virus, which was attacking cholera cells, was able to secretly calculate the optimal time to invade the bacteria (thus its many comparisons to a spy), by sensing a high quantity of DPO, which is a signal for when bacteria can begin their collective behavior, and possibly start a disease. What this means is that because of this ability to understand a bacteria’s quorum, they can most effectively counteract an infection.
In addition, upon further study, VP882 was found to be a very simple structure. This arguably the most important aspect of VP882. The virus is very similar to a plasmid, which can be easily modified and, thus accepted by a plethora of bacteria. This leads scientists like Bassler and Silpe to believe that VP882 can be modified to create an all-encompassing bacteriophage treatment, one which could be made cheaply and work far more effectively than general anti-bacterial treatments. Whether this is feasible still remains unknown, but in the time being, VP882 can be readily applied to neutralizing cholera in industrial wastewater without harming the natural microbiome, proving already the usefulness of this discovery.