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A team of Chinese and Danish researchers has identified 500 new species of gut-residing microorganisms and 800 new bacterial viruses which could attack them. The findings could lead to promising new treatments and possibly circumvent the current crisis of antimicrobial resistance.
Using a technique they developed for analyzing DNA sequence data, researchers managed to more than double the number of intestinal bacteria species that has previously been identified.
"Using our method, researchers are now able to identify and collect genomes from previously unknown microorganisms in even highly complex microbial societies," says Professor Søren Brunak who has co-headed the study together with Associate Professor Henrik Bjørn Nielsen. "This provides us with an overview we have not enjoyed previously."
Coupled with newfound understanding of how the bacteria and viruses interact, the findings are likely to offer more information and possibly lead to new treatments of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and even asthma.
The intestinal flora is a promising new frontier for scientists and health care professionals alike, and this study is the first to observe the interaction between healthy gut bacteria and certain viruses.
"Our study tells us which bacterial viruses attack which bacteria, something which has a noticeable effect on whether the attacked bacteria will survive in the intestinal system in the long term," says Henrik Bjørn Nielsen.
Researchers note their findings are of importance concerning increasing antimicrobial resistance that is considered a global health threat.
Bjørn Nielsen notes that studies exploring the use of bacteria and viruses to fight disease were cast aside before the crisis of antimicrobial resistance came into play.
"We have previously been experimenting with using bacteria and viruses to fight disease, but this was shelved because antimicrobial agents have been so effective in combating many infectious diseases," he says. "If we can learn more about who attacks who, then bacterial viruses could be a viable alternative to antimicrobial agents."
The study was published in Nature Biotechnology.