From Bits and Pieces to Whole Phage to Nanomachines: Pathogen Detection Using Bacteriophages

Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2017 Feb 28;8:305-329. doi: 10.1146/annurev-food-041715-033235. Epub 2017 Jan 11.


The innate specificity of bacteriophages toward their hosts makes them excellent candidates for the development of detection assays. They can be used in many ways to detect pathogens, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Whole bacteriophages can carry reporter genes to alter the phenotype of the target. Bacteriophages can act as staining agents or the progeny of the infection process can be detected, which further increases the sensitivity of the detection assay. Compared with whole-phage particles, use of phage components as probes offers other advantages: for example, smaller probe size to enhance binding activity, phage structures that can be engineered for better affinity, as well as specificity, binding properties, and robustness. When no natural binding with the target exists, phages can be used as vehicles to identify new protein-ligand interactions necessary for diagnostics. This review comprehensively summarizes many uses of phages as detection tools and points the way toward how phage-based technologies may be improved.

Keywords: bacteriophage; endolysins; pathogen detection; phage display; receptor-binding proteins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Cell Surface Display Techniques / methods*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Molecular Probes
  • Nanotechnology*


  • Molecular Probes