Humanity Might Be Saved by the Deadliest Entities on Earth


A problem is brewing in the human race’s ongoing battle with bacteria. Before the advent of antibiotics, something as simple as a laceration could cause a runaway infection that killed even an otherwise healthy person. When penicillin was accidentally discovered to have powerful antibiotic effects, the era of people dying from simple infections came to a close, dramatically increasing life expectancies around the world.

Humans got so accustomed to battling off even the most minor of infections with antibiotics, however, that they got careless. Over the intervening 100 years, we accidentally created antibiotic-resistance superbugs. Some estimates hold that, by 2050, superbugs could be responsible for more human deaths than cancer each year. This unsettling concept has led to an explosion of research for how to counter it.

The Deadliest Entity on Earth

The deadliest not-quite-alive entity on earth is the viral bacteriophage. Known as “phages” for short, these menacing little viruses are among the most dangerous structures a bacterium can encounter. Phages have evolved over billions of years to specifically hunt down and obliterate their preferred targets. Unlike antibiotics, which indiscriminately kill any bacteria unlucky enough to get caught in their blast radius, bacteriophages are laser-precise.

When a phage detects its preferred target, it latches onto the outside of the bacterium’s cell and injects its own genetic material. This genetic material gets into the bacterium’s nucleus and overwrites it, changing its prime directive from “do bacteria stuff” to “make more bacteriophages.” Thus, the individual bacterium becomes a factory dedicated to making exact replicas of the thing that’s killing it.

The end of this cycle has the newly-created phages unleash an enzyme that builds the pressure within the bacterium cell so high that the cell bursts open. In a spray of microscopic goo, millions of phages shoot out to find their next target.

Weaponizing the Virus

Bacteriophages have another interesting property: since they’re so focused on their specific prey, they ignore literally every other cell they encounter. They can bounce harmlessly off of human cells, and even off of bacteria like the friendly gut flora every human carries in their intestines. Meanwhile, science suggests that as bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics, they become more susceptible to bacteriophages.

As such, it’s possible for humans to catch even the deadliest of bacteria between a rock and a hard place. If they resist penicillin, they’ll get a lethal dose of phages. If they resist phages, then it’s time for humanity’s favorite fungus to pay them a visit. Isn’t science wonderful?