By Giorgia Guglielmi in Science Mag.
A century after they were discovered killing bacteria in the feces of World War I soldiers, the viruses known as bacteriophages, or simply phages, are drawing new attention for the role they might play within the human body. Phages have been found most everywhere, from oceans to soils. Now, a study suggests that people absorb up to 30 billion phages every day through their intestines.
Though where the viruses end up is unclear, those data and other recent studies have scientists wondering whether a sea of phages within the body—a “phageome”—might influence our physiology, perhaps by regulating our immune systems. “Basic biology teaching says that phages don’t interact with eukaryotic cells,” says phage researcher Jeremy Barr of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who led the study published this week in mBio. He’s now convinced “that’s complete BS.”
For decades, most medical research on phages focused on turning these bacterial parasites into antibiotics. There have been some compelling success stories, but phage therapy has struggled to become a dependable treatment.
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