Posted on March 17, 2020 at 12:00 PM
Despite the relative enigmatic role of "healthy" viruses in human health, we are increasingly unraveling the significance of our viral guests. In this particular function, we are adding a forgotten portion of the microbiome— the virome.
At the forefront of medical science lies the role of bacteria and our microbiome in health and disease.
We remain a long way from addressing the many questions raised by recent discoveries but it is now clearly known that we will not survive without our personal fleet of "good" microorganisms— our microbiome.
However, medical research is not sitting on its haunches; its eyes are still set at the horizon, straining to define the shape of objects lost in the distance.
The next challenge is still waiting in the wings as we try to unpick the almost unbearably complicated relationships between bacteria and health: the function of the virome.
We instantly think of bacteria when we hear the term "microbiome," but actually the microbiome is the amount of all microorganisms in a specific setting. Some scientists use the word to refer to the amount of these microorganisms ' genetic material
So aside from bacteria, the microbiome also contains, among other members, viruses (the virome), and fungi (the mycobiome). To date, the virome or mycobiome has received relatively little consideration from researchers.
Viruses have made themselves into a number of ecological niches in the human body at home, especially on mucosal surfaces such as the insides of the nose and mouth and the gut lining.
In this section, we're going to concentrate on the gut virome, since it houses the highest number of viral inhabitants and has been most investigated.
Viruses are, of course, best known for causing illnesses such as smallpox, influenza, HIV, and rabies. This factor has eaten up the lion's share of researchers ' attention because of the risk associated with the viral disease. Many viruses have even the least presence in human cells, however.
Scientists consider the virome as "the highest, most abundant, and most complex component of [the] microbiome," and most of the viruses in our guts are bacteriophage. Wherever bacteria do exist, there are numerous bacteriophages.
As other researchers explain: "Phages, being nearly omnipresent, are the most numerous life-forms on earth. Certain sources of fresh water can produce up to 10 billion per [milliliter]. "Bacteriophages infect bacteria, regulate their cell machinery and use it to reproduce genetic material.
Scientists investigated from the 1920s to the 1950s that bacteriophages could be used to cure bacterial infections. These viruses are, after all, experts at the killing of human pathogens.
Scientists found that phage therapy was both effective and, importantly, free from side effects.
Phage therapy slipped into the past, after antibiotics were found. Antibiotics could be generated fairly quickly and a wide range of bacterial species were destroyed.
However, with the hi-tech capabilities of today and the formidable backdrop of antibiotic resistance, interest in phage therapy may be experiencing a resurgence.
Their specificity is one aspect that makes phage therapy attractive. Antibiotics also wip out a large variety of bacterial species. But now that we know that "healthy" bacteria exist in the stomach, it's clear this isn't perfect.
Meanwhile, bacteriophages attack only a tiny variety of strains within the same bacterial genus.
Plus, they only replicate if their target bacteria are in the local area. Taken together, this ensures they invade only the desired bacterium, so they continue to reproduce until the virus has been wiped out.
Bacteria are far from easy to study; after all, they are extremely small. In fact, the bacteria are 0.4–10 micrometers across. To provide some context: 10 micrometers is just one-hundredth of a millimeter or four ten thousandths of an inch.
However, the viruses are much smaller, at just 0.02–0.4 micrometers across.
Aside from the difficulties inherent in working on such a tiny scale, viruses pose other challenges.
If scientists wish to consider which bacterial species are found in any given population, genetic material is derived from them.
They extract different stretches of code from this and link them to known databases; most specifically, they use the rRNA gene 16S. This specific gene is present in almost all bacterial organisms and has remained remarkably stable over the course of evolutionary time.
Some 16S RNA regions are nevertheless found to be hypervariable. Differences between certain regions require organisms to be recognized by researchers.
On the other hand, the viruses do not share any similar genes between species. This made researching the virome nearly difficult until fairly recently, but developments in next-generation sequencing are steadily breaking down barriers.
The role of the viruses in human health at this point is nowhere near as evident as their role in illness.
Having said that, it still is extremely likely that viruses play a large role in sustaining a healthy body. Its maximum effect can only be appreciated through advancements in testing techniques.
With the imminent antibiotic resistance issues, maybe renewed interest in the bacteriophage would see more time devoted to this enigmatic medical science feature.
Also, it would be hard-won knowledge to grasp the interplay between the components of our microbiome; as one paper explains:
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