It’s been called “the trots,” “Montezuma’s Revenge,” “the runs” and worse. But no matter the name, when it strikes, victims wish for a medicine that could go straight to the offending bacteria to quickly knock it dead.

That wish will ultimately come true if work by Texas A&M University scientists stays on target at the Center for Phage Technology in College Station.

A “medicine that grows” is how the phage concept was described by Dr. Ryland Young, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics who was instrumental in establishing the center.

“Phage is a word that simply means viruses that grow on bacteria,” Young said. “They are harmless to humans, harmless to animals, harmless to plants.

The only things they attack are bacteria. And every kind of bacteria involved in the disease process has bacteria phages that will attack them. So if you are a bacterial cell, your enemy is the bacterial virus.

Young said new technology to fight bacterial diseases—of which there are many in addition to “the trots”—is critically important because people and animals have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics currently on the market. And yet no major U.S. pharmaceutical company is trying to develop new antibiotics.

“There is not enough money in it,” he said. “You can’t blame them. They are companies and they are there to make money. They can make a lot more money making pain drugs and lifestyle drugs. Antibiotics are not a particularly attractive investment.”

When antibiotics work, he explained, people get well and don’t need drugs any more. Yet bacterial illnesses at a minimum cause lost productivity in the workplace and schools, and some bacteria, such as one commonly called MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, can be deadly.