During the COVID-19 pandemic, people became well aware that viruses can be extremely harmful. But can viruses also be helpful?
Bryan Hsu aims to find out by studying viruses that infect bacteria in the bellies of mammals.
“We think there is some kind of role of phages in the gut, and it is really hard to study because everything is linked,” said Hsu, also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Arthropod-borne Pathogens. “Normally phages and bacteria are intrinsically linked because you have this constant infection process, and it’s really hard to separate the phage particles and bacterial cells.”
Many organisms living inside the human body contribute to a healthy gut microbiome, one of which is a virome — a community of phages. These phages are viruses that invade bacterial cells. There are two types: lytic phages that replicate and kill the bacteria cell and temperate phages that hide within it. These phages only infect bacterial cells, but scientists know little more about their actual role in the human gut.
Hsu and his team of researchers in the College of Science plan to remove lytic phages without affecting the bacteria inside a mammalian gut. This has been done in a culture dish but it has not been done inside a mammal.
“We will not only deplete the viral community, but also replenish it to see if it comes back, to see if we can reconstitute the phage community,” said Hsu. “There have been a lot of correlations between the gut biome and disease. You see different compositions of viruses so there are hints that there is a relationship there, or there’s some kind of health impact. But how it happens is an open question.”
“Real-world application would be , just like fecal microbiota transplants except with just the phage part,” said Hsu.
“Usually screens are supposed to catch this, but sometimes they don’t,” Hsu said.
Hsu pointed to one small study in which the bacteria from the stool transplant was filtered out, yet While the results are only suggestive, they point to the possibility that bacteria are not the only important component in a healthy gut microbiome.
Hsu believes that phages could have played a role in those successful outcomes, as well as other outcomes, by having a positive impact on the overall bacterial community.
Phages may also help with the growing number of drug-resistant bacteria.
Research using these phages to fight drug-resistant bacteria is expanding, but the big picture, the actual role of the phages in the mammalian gut, is still not well known.
” Hsu said. (Newswise/SC)