SEP 01, 2016 8:09 PM PDT

Good Viruses Discovered in Gut Bacteria

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Special viruses called bacteriophage infect bacteria, but they don’t always kill their target. In fact, a recent discovery uncovered bacteriophage inside of the healthy bacteria living in our gut, a population of microorganisms scientists call the microbiome.
Credit: Biophoto Associates/Science Source
The new discovery indicates that human gut bacteria have their own version of a microbiome, and it consists of bacteriophage that don’t cause any harm (as far as researchers can tell so far). Any instances of gut bacteriophages have been ignored until recently because scientists never saw them causing problems, and they didn’t know how to study them anyway.

However, in a recent PNAS study led by scientists from Montana State University, researchers sequenced the genes of bacteriophage from two individuals’’ microbiomes, combined their findings with genetic data from a previous study of more than 160 individuals’ gut bacteriophage genetic sequences.

They ended up identifying 23 distinct bacteriophage that seemed to be associated with a healthy gut. One-third of the participants had healthy guts while the remaining two-thirds had chronic intestinal illnesses, either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Of the 23 beneficial bacteriophage identified, nearly all of the viruses were found in the healthy gut individuals rather than in the patients with chronic intestinal disease.

"Most virologists are looking at how viruses cause disease," said Mark Young, PhD, from Montana State University. "We're flipping that around, and looking at the possible role for viruses in promoting health."

Previous research has indicated that a diverse microbiome, meaning gut bacteria, is linked to a variety of health benefits. However, the results from the present research study show that gut bacteriophage populations are even more diverse than gut bacteria. 

Overall, Young and the other study scientists believe that viruses in the gut are somehow helping to maintain human health in collaboration with gut bacteria. However, they can’t confirm that the bacteriophage are part of the cause or just a component of a healthy individual’s gut microorganisms. Scientists in the field believe that future studies need to include more participants as well as more diverse groups. Researchers believe that they should consider the impact of a person’s diet on gut viruses as well.

One theory of how gut bacteriophage benefit human health is by controlling which bacterial species thrive in the gut. Just like other types of viruses are capable of infecting and killing humans, bacteriophage can infect and kill bacteria.

In the future, should the theory pan out, researchers could use specialized bacteriophage to target dangerous bacterial species. There are still a lot of questions concerning the good viruses living in our gut bacteria, but scientists are sure to quickly launch projects to figure out all the details. You haven’t heard the last of the healthy human gut phageome.  
 


Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Montana State University, NPR
 
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 29, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Will We Have a COVID-19 Vaccine by Year-End?
JUL 29, 2020
Will We Have a COVID-19 Vaccine by Year-End?
This week, pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer launched giant Phase III 30,000-subject trials for their COVID-19 ...
AUG 10, 2020
Microbiology
The Tuberculosis Pathogen Is Captured Infecting a Cell
AUG 10, 2020
The Tuberculosis Pathogen Is Captured Infecting a Cell
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium, and it can infect immune cells called macrophages in the lungs that would normall ...
SEP 01, 2020
Immunology
Cell Atlas of Mosquito Immunology Reveals New Avenues for Eradicating Malaria
SEP 01, 2020
Cell Atlas of Mosquito Immunology Reveals New Avenues for Eradicating Malaria
Malaria is one of the biggest ongoing threats to global health — over 200 million were infected and almost half a ...
NOV 06, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
New Vaccine Shows Promise for Herpes
NOV 06, 2020
New Vaccine Shows Promise for Herpes
The World Health Organization estimates that over 500 million people have Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2), a sexuall ...
NOV 10, 2020
Immunology
Genetic Profiling Reveals How Ebola Puts Immune Cells in a Chokehold
NOV 10, 2020
Genetic Profiling Reveals How Ebola Puts Immune Cells in a Chokehold
In the middle of 2020, yet another deadly Ebola outbreak was reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo - the 11th ...
NOV 20, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Cat Parasite Gives Clues on New Drug Targets for Schizophrenia
NOV 20, 2020
Cat Parasite Gives Clues on New Drug Targets for Schizophrenia
Researchers from the UK and France have discussed a mechanism of action behind the infamous Toxoplasma gondii  ...
Loading Comments...