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Biological characterization of South African bacteriophages infective against Streptococcus uberis, a causal agent of bovine mastitis.

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Mastitis is an inflammatory disease of bovine mammary glands and is the most economically important disease affecting dairy herds in South Africa, and globally. The incidence and history of mastitis in South Africa has been extensively documented and found to be bacterial in origin. Streptococcus uberis (S. uberis) is the most common environmental causal agent of mastitis from clinical and subclinical samples in several countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Belgium. Due to the causal agents ability to exist in cells, it remains protected from antibiotics. The quest for antibiotic free dairy management has funded the research into integrated strategies, predominantly proactive udder health management. Biological control methods are not widely used, specifically the use of bacteriophage (phage) therapy. Phages are ubiquitous (found in all biospheres) and are the most abundant organisms on earth. Understanding the interaction between phages and their hosts is vital to their manipulation for therapeutic conditions. This study aimed to isolate phages from unpasteurized milk of dairy cows, sequentially screened these against S. uberis isolates demonstrating antimicrobial resistance at the time. The phages have been screened for robust lytic characteristics for the of intent of a phage-based therapy. Bacterial strains of S. uberis were isolated from unpasteurized milk by Allerton laboratories submitted by dairy farms in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The samples were screened for S. uberis using the following tests: haemolysis patterns on blood agar, catalase reactions using hydrogen peroxide (5%), and Gram reaction. The identity of the strains was then confirmed by Inqaba Biotechnical Industries (Pty) Ltd via sequencing of the 16s ribosomal RNA. The six S. uberis strains were screened against 8 commonly used antibiotics in the dairy industry: β-lactam (ampicillin, penicillin G, cefalexin, oxacillin and amoxicillin), macrolides (erythromycin), tetracyclines (tetracycline) and glycopeptide (vancomycin). Using the Kirby Bauer method and The European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (EUCAST) clinical breaking points zone diameters, version 10.0, 2020. Every strain of S. uberis was susceptible to vancomycin, which is not available for intra-mammary infections. Resistance to the 7 other antibiotics varied amongst the strains. This was not a survey study but an isolation of S. uberis strains to challenge the efficacy of phage therapy. Approximately 2,000 mastitic milk samples were screened for phages resulting in the isolation of 95 phages. This was further reduced by screening for constant lytic ability to five phages that were characterized for their phage titre, host range, single step growth phase and lethal dose activity. The titre of the five selected phages varied considerably. Phages CP1, CP2, CP76, CP79 and CP80 produced titres of 59x102, 56x105, 47x106, 50x104 and 35x104, respectively. There was a differential interaction between the five phages isolates and the six strains of S. uberis. One strain of S. uberis was susceptible to all five phages, Strain 21A, whereas Strains 17D and 78B were not susceptible to any of the five phages. Phage CP2 was virulent to four of the six S. uberis strains. The single step growth assay illustrated the cyclic replication of the isolated phages takes between 50 - 60 minutes. In a lethal dose assay, Phages CP1 and CP2 were each able to reduce S. uberis counts by 86% and 83%, respectively. Of the 5 phages screened Phages CP1 and CP2 showed potential as stand-alone treatments, whereas Phages CP76, CP79 and CP80 would offer better control when combined in a phage cocktail, and this would broaden the host range. Phage samples were examined using transmission electron microscopy (JEOL 1400). Various negative stains were used to view the virus particles: 2% uranyl acetate (UA), 2% phosphotungstic acid (PTA) and 0.05-5% ammonium molybdate (AM). The AM staining provided the best images of infected bacterial cells and phage surface structures. All micrographs obtained, illustrated similar viral particle structures suggesting the phages screened belong to one family. A virus particle was measured to have a 50-65nm diameter icosahedral head and a short tail ranging from 25-35nm in length from the EM micrograph. The virus particles exhibited Podoviridae morphology. However, only a complete genomic sequencing will confirm the identity of these virus particles to a species level.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.