A new database project has identified and classified some 140,000 viral species found in the human gut, more than 50 percent of which were previously unknown to science.
The project is known as the Gut Phage Database and was the culmination of analysis of 28,000 individual metagenomes – the DNA sequences of gut microbiome samples taken from people in 28 countries around the world.
Among the truly staggering amount of data were tens of thousands of newly discovered viruses and 142,809 viral species that call the human gut home, the majority of which are bacteriophages – viruses that infect bacteria – and additional single-celled organisms called archaea.
Lest anyone freak out prematurely, these viruses were found in healthy people with no signs of any specific diseases linked to their viral guests in their guts.
“It’s important to remember that not all viruses are harmful, but represent an integral component of the gut ecosystem,” explains biochemist Alexandre Almeida, of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s Bioinformatics Institute.
In fact, bacteriophages are believed to help with the regulation of bacteria and the health of the human gut itself, reinforcing the idea that not all viruses are our mortal enemies.
“To our knowledge, this set represents the most comprehensive and complete collection of human gut phage genomes to date,” the researchers said, adding that this amount of high-resolution information about the specifics of our own gut could prove to be something of a treasure trove and mark a renaissance in the field.
By helping to better inform our understanding of our own bodies, it may end up providing humanity with potentially invaluable intelligence on viruses and how they interact with human cells, unlocking the cure for numerous intractable diseases, afflictions, and conditions.
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