If you think you don’t have viruses, think again

Posted by Ed 10 days ago
It may be hard to fathom, but the human body is occupied by large collections of microorganisms, commonly referred to as our microbiome, that have evolved with us since the early days of man. Scientists have only recently begun to quantify the microbiome, and discovered it is inhabited by at least 38 trillion bacteria.
More intriguing, perhaps, is that bacteria are not the most abundant microbes that live in and on our bodies. That award goes to viruses.

It has been estimated that there are over 380 trillion viruses inhabiting us, a community collectively known as the human virome. But these viruses are not the dangerous ones you commonly hear about, like those that cause the flu or the common cold, or more sinister infections like Ebola or dengue.

Many of these viruses infect the bacteria that live inside you and are known as bacteriophages, or phages for short. The human body is a breeding ground for phages, and despite their abundance, we have very little insight into what all they or any of the other viruses in the body are doing.

I am a physician-scientist studying the human microbiome by focusing on viruses, because I believe that harnessing the power of bacteria’s ultimate natural predators will teach us how to prevent and combat bacterial infections.

One might rightly assume that if viruses are the most abundant microbes in the body, they would be the target of the majority of human microbiome studies.
But that assumption would be horribly wrong. The study of the human virome lags so far behind the study of bacteria that we are only just now uncovering some of their most basic features.
This lag is due to it having taken scientists much longer to recognize the presence of a human virome, and a lack of standardized and sophisticated tools to decipher what’s actually in your virome.

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