World-first database catalogs 1,000s of viruses in our gut microbiome

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A new study detected over 33,000 unique virus populations that reside in human gut microbiomes

Researchers from Ohio State University have created the first catalog of viral populations known to inhabit the human gut. Called the Gut Virome Database, the study suggests each person’s gut viral population is as unique as their fingerprints.

Our gut microbiome has become a major focus of research over the past few years after the trillions of micro-organisms living in out digestive system were found to play a key role in maintaining human health. The vast majority of these organisms in our gut are bacteria, but the gut microbiome isn’t just a massive bacterial population – it also consists of parasites, fungi and viruses.

Cataloging these other microbiome inhabitants is not easy. Viruses, unlike bacteria, lack any universal genomic markers. In fact, anywhere from 40 to 90 percent of viral genomic sequences are known as “viral dark matter,” meaning they don’t align with any known reference virus sequences.

So the first step for the researchers was to compile data from dozens of prior studies looking at viruses in the human gut. The ultimate dataset compiled encompassed nearly 2,000 people spanning 16 countries.

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