Bacteriophages – Viruses with future potential

Hand holding plaque assay
© Fraunhofer IGB
Plaque assay for quantification of active bacteriophages.

Bacteriophages, phages for short, are named after the Greek word "phagein" for eating. They are naturally occurring viruses which can only infect bacteria and destroy them specifically by cell lysis.

This property makes them a non-hazardous but very efficient tool for humans, animals and plants with many potential applications in distinct areas. Besides therapeutic purposes, phages are also specifically used for food preservation, bacterial diagnostics, biofilm degradation and biotechnological processes.

Furthermore, bacteriophages represent natural vehicles for the transfer of genetic material, which can lead to the genetic modification of infected bacteria and thus be exploited for targeted utilization.

Spectrum of services

Bacteriophages on light table
© Fraunhofer IGB

Your bacteriophages research partner

The innovation field Virus-based Technologies develops phages for specific problems for customers from research, clinical and industrial sectors.

We set the main focus on specific usage of bacteriophages as a customized tool for medicine and bioeconomy.  A main topic is the application-oriented use of bacteriophages for targeted germ reduction. Our services offere here comprises the identification, engineering, cultivation, storage and formulation of phages.

Phages as model viruses

Additionally, we use bacteriophages successfully as surrogates, i.e. model viruses, for SARS-CoV-2 to answer questions regarding the effect of protective masks and filters or to evaluate disinfection methods such as irradiation using UV-C. This is described in the section “Aerosol-carried viruses – production, capturing, analysis”.

Application areas

Therapeutic use of bacteriophages against bacterial infections

The therapeutic potential of phages has long been successfully exploited in Georgia and some Eastern European countries. Both mild and severe bacterial infections such as burns, gastrointestinal and genitourinary tract infections, or cystic fibrosis-associated infections, can be treated with phages.


Phages against caries pathogens

In the "Kari-EX" project, we at the IGB have shown that phages can really destroy bacteria in a targeted manner and are suitable for a potential medical application, using caries pathogens as an example.

Are you interested in implementing the use of phages against caries therapeutically? Come and talk to us!


Phages as an alternative to antibiotics

Due to the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant (AMR) bacteria worldwide, and especially an increase in multi-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Extended Spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL) producing pathogens, the calls for alternative therapeutic options are increasing. This is even more pronounced by a recent analysis performed by the WHO´s AMR division dealing with antibacterial agents in preclinical development [World Health Organization, Antibacterial agents in preclinical development: an open access database. 2019] which now lists also bacteriophages and phage-derived peptides.

Bacteriophages may play an important role in the future and be used in medicine to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Furthermore, huge potential is seen for applications in the food- and agricultural industry, for example to ensure the hygienization of food products or to reduce the usage of antibiotics in animal farming.   


Circumvent bacterial antibiotic resistance

We are your partner for phage research! Contact us if you are interested in a development cooperation.

Please note that we are not allowed to provide phages to private persons. Our offer always refers to a development of phages in the context of a cooperation with research, clinics or companies.

Active phage particles destroy bacteria and form lytic zones (plaques) on a bacterial lawn.
© Fraunhofer IGB
Active phage particles destroy bacteria and form lytic zones (plaques) on a bacterial lawn.

Removal of contaminating bacteria using phages

However, the field of application of phages is not limited exclusively to therapeutic purposes. In addition, phages are suitable wherever contaminating bacteria need to be removed in a targeted manner, for example for food preservation or for the degradation of biofilms in medical technology.


With phages against biofilms

Do you want to eliminate biofilms or remove contaminating bacteria? Contact us so that we can develop a solution strategy for you based on phages!

Phages as multifunctional tool for metabolic engineering

In the field of bioeconomy, bacteria are used for the production of chemical products from renewable raw materials or residual waste that serve as an alternative to fossil resources.


Metabolic engineering for industrial biotechnology using phages

Bacteriophages can be used to specifically modify metabolic processes leading to enhanced or altered production of the desired products, termed “metabolic engineering”. Especially for bacteria which cannot be targeted by commonly used genetic engineering methods, bacteriophages display an attractive tool to circumvent this problem. To address this issue, sampling and characterization of bacteriophages against a wide variety of bacteria will be performed, followed by the establishment of a phage collection for storage allowing subsequent usage.

Phages for biointelligent control of biotechnological production processes

For the use of phages to control biotechnological production processes, so-called temperent viruses come into question, which do not reproduce immediately after penetrating the host cell, but anchor their genetic material stably in the genome of the host like Trojan horses. In this way, they survive for a long time in the dividing host cells and are only activated in response to certain stimuli from the environment.

Temperent viruses as sensors and actuators

We want to use this fact as a natural sensor and actuator property, for example for the biointelligent control of processes and monitoring systems: The viruses can be genetically modified and integrated into technical systems in such a way that they can trigger cascades as viral switches, for example in bioreactors to monitor specific bacterial cultures.

With their help, it would then be possible, for example, to determine the optimum time for harvesting a fermentation or to initiate phage-induced lysis of the bacteria so that the desired bacterial metabolic products can be released and more easily processed.

Interested? We would be happy to start a fermentation project with you to establish viral control!

Reference projects

Kari-EX – With phages against caries


The project, which is funded by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, aims to develop a completely new, cost-effective and safe method for the causal treatment of caries as a "proof of concept". This goal is to be achieved through the innovative integration of bacteriophages in chewing gum.


Duration: October 2018 – September 2019