Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), in the United Kingdom, have identified more than 140,000 viral species living in the human intestine, more than half of which have never been seen before.
The study, published in the journal ‘Cell’, contains an analysis of more than 28,000 gut microbiome samples collected in different parts of the world. The number and diversity of viruses the researchers found was surprisingly high, and the data opens up new avenues of research to understand how viruses that live in the gut affect human health.
The human gut is an environment with incredible biodiversity. In addition to bacteria, hundreds of thousands of viruses called bacteriophages also live there, which can infect bacteria.
It is known that imbalances in the gut microbiome can contribute to complex diseases and conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, and obesity. But Relatively little is known about the role our gut bacteria and bacteriophages play that infect them in human health and disease.
Using a DNA sequencing method called metagenomics, the researchers explored and cataloged the biodiversity of viral species found in 28,060 public human intestinal metagenomes and 2,898 genomes of bacterial isolates grown from the human intestine.
The analysis identified more than 140,000 viral species living in the human gut, more than half of which have never been seen before.
Dr. Alexandre Almeida, postdoctoral fellow at EMBL-EBI and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, highlights that “it is important to remember that not all viruses are harmful, but they represent an integral component of the intestinal ecosystem.”
“On the one hand, most of the viruses we find have DNA as genetic material, which is different from the pathogens that most people know, such as SARS-CoV-2 or Zika, which are RNA viruses, ” he continues. Second, these samples come mainly from healthy people who do not share any specific diseases. It’s fascinating to see how many unknown species live in our gut and try to unravel the link between them and human health. ”
Among the tens of thousands of viruses discovered, a new highly prevalent broth was identified, a group of viruses believed to have a common ancestor, which the authors refer to as Gubaphage. This was found to be the second most prevalent group of viruses in the human gut, after crAssphage, which was discovered in 2014.
Both viruses appear to infect similar types of human gut bacteria, but without further research it is difficult to know the exact functions of the newly discovered Gubaphage.
Dr. Luis F. Camarillo-Guerrero, first author of the study from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, highlights that “an important aspect of our work was to ensure that the reconstructed viral genomes were of the highest quality. A strict quality control in process together with a The machine learning approach allowed us to mitigate contamination and obtain very complete viral genomes. ”
“High-quality viral genomes pave the way to better understand the role viruses play in our gut microbiome, including the discovery of new treatments such as antimicrobials of bacteriophage origin “, he assures.
The results of the study form the basis of the Gut Phage Database (GPD), a highly curated database containing 142,809 non-redundant phage genomes that will be an invaluable resource for those studying bacteriophages and the role they play in regulating the health of our gut bacteria and ourselves.
Dr Trevor Lawley, lead author of the study from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, says “Bacteriophage research is undergoing a renaissance. This large-scale, high-quality catalog of human intestinal viruses comes at the right time to serve as a model to guide the Ecological and evolutionary analysis in future virome studies “.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.