Humans’ gut virus composition is as unique as a fingerprint: Study

More gut virus diversity means a healthy individual

Last Updated: Wednesday 26 August 2020

The gut virus composition of each person is as unique as a fingerprint, says a new study.

Scientists at the Ohio State University have developed a gut virome database. It identified 33,242 unique viral populations that are present in the human gut. Viruses in the gut are difficult to detect and often referred as dark matter.

Unlike gut bacteria, that have a common gene sequence, viruses don’t have any similarity. Scientists used data from 32 studies that had looked at gut viruses in 1,986 healthy and sick people in 16 countries. While a few viral populations were shared within a subgroup of people, no major viral group is common to all humans.

Almost 97.7 per cent of the populations are phages, viruses that infect and kills bacteria. Unlike other viruses that kill the host cells, phages co-exist with their host microbes. 

They also produce genes that help the host cells compete and survive. Gut virus diversity increases with age and starts to decrease at the age of 65, the study said.

People living in non-western countries have higher diversity of gut viruses. They lose the diversity after moving to a western country. More gut virus diversity means a healthy individual, indicating their beneficial role in humans.

The researchers have their sights on phage therapy. Phage therapy is a century-old idea of using phages to kill antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

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