In recent years, studies have surrounded gut health, particularly in relation to bacteria and the collective bacteriome of the whole gut microbiome. Overall gut wholeness and health benefits from positive nutritional habits, early-life exposure, changes in hygiene, and other environmental factors. Additionally, poor gut microbiome health is now shown to be a contributing factor in the development of certain cancers, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), obesity, diabetes, and cardio-metabolic disorders. However, there are other collections of microorganisms in the gut that significantly contribute to either a rich and even gut species or dysbiosis of the gut microbiome. These “dark matter” communities consist of certain microorganisms. One of which is the gut virome, and it predominantly consists of gut phages.
The Makeup and Impact of the Gut Virome
Much like the bacterial components of the gut microbiome that consist of certain advantageous and harmful bacteria within the same ecosystem, the gut virome operates in much of the same manner. The gut virome is made up of a rich consistency of commensal viruses that benefit the gut ecosystem of its host in different manners, which include developing protective epithelial cells along the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, the gut virome consists of certain pathogenic viruses that rapidly replicate and contribute to infection within the gut and in the body as a whole. These episodes of viral infections can be harmful to the host and those in close contact, as viruses pass and replicate quickly, as has been exemplified over the last years.
The consistency and composition of the gut virome have been largely unknown, unlike the bacteria and fungi counterparts of the gut microbiome. However, this identification gap is rapidly closing as new technology and innovations arise that give the ability to detect and identify components of the gut virome. New bioinformatics tools such as Metavir, Viral Informatics Resource for Metagenome Exploration (VIROME), VIROMEScan, and VirusSeeker are among a few of the most recent advancements in virome analytic tools. These innovations allow researchers to differentiate between closely related viruses and provide a means to decode individual sequencing like never before.
The Makeup and Impact of Gut Phages
The gut virome is heavily composed of different types and varieties of phages including, prophages, eukaryotic viruses, and retroviruses. Recent studies have shown that the makeup of the gut phage appearing in newborn children is diverse and rich, which diminishes drastically over the first two years of life. However, the opposite occurs in terms of gut bacterial diversity. The bacterial microbiota of the gut becomes highly diverse after infancy.
The ability to identify these types of gut phages within the virome throughout the lifespan is essential for maintaining overall whole and balanced ratios of microorganisms in the gut microbiome.
Future Research Benefits
The potential for future medical and scientific benefits and advancements abound as more research emerges within this intricate and nuanced field of study. The ability to detect, identify, and analyze ‘dark matter’ in the virome of the gut is shedding light on overall gut health, microorganism diversity, and system-wide wellbeing.
This article is published in Microorganisms.