Every few months, we hear about a newly discovered that’s jumped from birds to people somewhere in the world. And the number of viruses identified in bats is “extraordinary and appears to increase almost daily,” scientists last year in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
But a virus that has been quietly hiding inside millions of people on three continents — and never noticed before? That doesn’t come along often.
Scientists at San Diego State University have discovered what may be the most common and abundant virus in the human gut. And yet, the tiny critter, called crAssphage (oh yes, there’s a story behind that name), has eluded researchers’ radar for decades.
Here’s the cool part: The virus doesn’t just hang out in our intestines naked and alone, scientists Thursday in the journal Nature Communications. Instead, the virus takes up residence inside gut bacteria — specifically inside Bacteroides, a group of microbes that have been linked to obesity and diabetes.
So the system is almost like a Russian nesting doll: The virus lives inside the bacterium, which lives inside our gut.
The new virus doesn’t make us sick, but it may be involved in controlling weight through its effect on Bacteroides. “We suspect this virus is very important in regulating the number of these bacteria [the Bacteroides] in the intestine,” says computational biologist , who led the study.
Edwards and his colleagues found the virus in fecal samples from people across the U.S., Europe, Korea and Japan. “But we think the virus is likely found worldwide,” he tells Goats and Soda. “We’ve basically found it in every population we’ve looked at. If we tested Africans, we think we’d find it in them, too.”
Scientists are just starting to learn about all the organisms that live in and on the human body. Collectively, they’re called the human . And there’s no question they’re important for our health.
So far, most studies have focused on the gut’s bacteria — not other microbes there. These bacteria are known to help regulate everything from our weight and immunity to heart health and . One study even found that changes in gut bacteria malnutrition in young children in Malawi.