Nature Communications has reported that scientists have recently discovered a previously unknown virus which lives in the human gut and might be the key to preventing obesity.
According to the BBC Health page, the well-respected multidisciplinary journal which publishes high-quality research in all areas of the natural sciences says the study, undertaken by an international team at San Diego State University, USA, shows how the CR Assphage virus could influence the behaviour of some of the most common bacteria living in the human gut.
These viruses, know as bacteriophages, have been shown to play a vital role in the progression of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. The team of scientists were investigating genetic information which had been stored in three large international databases when they came across a strand of DNA over 100,000 letters long. The lead author of the study, Prof Robert Edwards, admitted in the BBC report that it wasn’t unusual for scientists to look for such viruses but what WAS peculiar was finding an undiscovered virus which so many people had in common. Apparently the virus has the genetic fingerprint of a type of virus believed to infect bacteria, known as a bacteriophage. These phages somehow exist to control the behaviour of the bacteria they infect. In fact, some make it easier for such bacteria to exist within their environments whilst other types help bacteria to get stronger.
Scientists are now trying to grow the virus in a laboratory and predict the next step is to work out just how the virus affects human gut bacteria. They have produced new techniques and powerful tools to help identify previously unknown viruses and the hope is that if they can pin down the viral controllers, perhaps they could then use what they find to modify any harmful bacteria, thereby decreasing their potency in chronic diseases such as obesity.