Science

Half the World’s Population Has This Previously Unknown Virus

By | Jul 29, 2014 05:28 AM EDT
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DNA cluster

(Photo : Reuters)

Scientists have recently discovered a virus present in the gut of more than half of all humans.

The "crAssphage virus" latches itself to the common gut bacteria, Bacteroidetes, which are thought to be associated with diabetes, obesity and other gut-related diseases.

There is no confirmation the virus itself causes any sickness, said a study published in Nature Communications, a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal that includes all topics in physics, chemistry, earth sciences and biology.

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Two scientists from San Diego State University, Bas Dutilh and Robert Edwards, came across this widespread bacteria-infecting virus by accident.

They were analyzing DNA in 12 human fecal samples when they observed how all the samples had a cluster of viral DNA of some 100,000 letters long, which is 10 times larger than HIV.

When they cross-checked the virus in a database of genetic sequences, they found that the virus is 75 percent present in samples taken from people of different continents. That was a count of 342 out of 466 human feces-derived samples.

In addition, the virus turned out to have never been discovered before.

Edwards said that though it's usual to look for a novel virus and find one, it's unusual when the virus is common to a lot of people.

crAssphage's proteins are similar to those found in common viruses. That led the scientists to conclude it's a bacteriophage.

A bacteriophage is a virus that infects and replicates inside a bacterium. Scientists further discovered that the virus multiplies within Bacteroidetes, which exist in human intestinal tract.

The fact that crAssphage is so widespread indicates it's probably as old as humans, Edwards said.

Edwards and his team are now trying to grow the virus in a laboratory. Their next step will be to conduct a study on how the virus affects human gut bacteria.

The study could be used to modify harmful bacteria that causes chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, Dr. Martha Clokie of Leicester University told the BBC.

Harmful bacteria can be modified to become less powerful by pinning down the behaviors of viruses like crAssphage, she added.

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