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A Passport In The Human Gut: San Diego Researchers Find A Common Virus That Varies By Location

Rob Edwards is the lead researcher from San Diego State University on this gu...

Credit: San Diego State University

Above: Rob Edwards is the lead researcher from San Diego State University on this gut virus study in this undated photo.

Most humans around the world have a virus that has been passed down through generations and can be slightly different depending on location. That's according to a new study released Monday from San Diego State University.

From the labs at SDSU, biologist Rob Edwards has been leading a team of over 100 scientists around the world. He’s asked each of them to collect samples of sewage water — because, he said, the samples could provide a window into our microbiomes.

“So, you’ve heard about the human microbiome. That’s the collection of all the viruses and bacteria that are associated with our body,” Edwards said.

By using a computer to see the DNA sequences of these samples, Edwards and his team discovered a virus they call CrAssphage. What they found is that this virus infects bacteria everywhere. It was ubiquitous in every country and city they looked at.

RELATED: Immigrating To The U.S.? Get Ready For A New Gut Microbiome (And Maybe More Pounds)

Edwards said the virus is non-threatening and has been in our systems and environments for numerous generations. But, that’s not all they discovered about the virus.

“When we look at the sequences we find very unique signatures for each country. So, if we take the sequence from the virus in the United States, it looks like the other viruses in the United States. If we travel across Europe and identify the virus, say, from France. It looks like the virus from France,” Edwards said.

Edwards said this study could help researchers create drugs or medicinal therapies that are more targeted, perhaps based on geographic location or environment.

And Jack Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Center at UC San Diego, agrees. At Gilbert's lab researchers are studying bacteria.

“We are just another ecosystem and by mapping out how all the different viruses in our body develop alongside us, we’ll develop strategic ways to intervene in our health and therefore be able to live more healthy and productive lives," Gilbert said.

However, Gilbert said more work needs to be done before we are able to get to this point.

“This is a single investigation of a diverse population of a single phage type that exists in our bodies,” Gilbert said.

There have to be more investigations, Gilbert said, because there are a lot of bacteria and a lot of viruses in our systems. But, he said this study is a promising start.

“The crAssphage appears to correlate very well with the abundance of certain very abundant types of bacteria," Gilbert said. "Now we might have the host, we might have the target that virus is attacking inside our bodies.”

Back at San Diego State University, Researcher Rob Edwards said he plans to investigate why this virus is different in various parts of the world.

Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.


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