Author: Bradley J. Fikes
Electron micrograph of bacteriophages infecting a bacterial cell.
Image credit: Dr Graham Beards.
Helped by a global search through sewage, San Diego State University researchers have found that a benign gut virus appears to be older than the human race itself.
Moreover, different strains of this common virus can be traced to countries or even individual cities, said study leader Rob Edwards. Travelers rapidly pick up the local strain, providing a genetic map of their journey.
“For example, we can detect San Diego vs. New York,” Edwards said.
There are also hints that the virus might be usable to treat certain diseases related to imbalances of intestinal bacteria, he said. There’s no evidence the virus causes any human disease.
The study was published Monday in Nature Microbiology.
This virus is a bacteriophage or phage, a group of viruses that kill bacteria. Called a cross-assembly phage, or crAssphage, it infects Bacteroidetes, a genus of anerobic bacteria. The virus was first reported in 2014, by a group including Edwards.
The virus might be used to alleviate disorders such as Crohn’s disease, and possibly diabetes and obesity, he said. There are hints that imbalances in the gut bacterial population are involved in such disorders. So strains of the phage might be engineered to deliver medicines.
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