New research spearheaded by McGill University has discovered that bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) found in the intestinal tracts of children may play a role in childhood stunting, a significant impediment to growth that affects 22% of children under the age of five around the world.
The study, published today in Cell Host & Microbe , also suggests that because they affect the abundance and diversity of bacterial communities in the gastrointestinal tract, these viruses could also be used to improve health. The researchers believe this work offers hope of developing new cost efficient therapies for populations where nutritional interventions, which have been shown to work, are difficult to implement and sustain in vulnerable human populations. Phages, bacteria and stunting
Earlier studies had suggested that the gut microbiome might play a role in stunting by showing that stunted children have increased numbers of disease-causing bacteria--associated with impaired digestive and absorption functions--living in their gastrointestinal tracts.
But while much research has focused on the bacteria present in our gut and the influence they can have on human health, little attention has thus far been paid to other very common residents of our gastrointestinal tract - bacteriophages.
Phages or bacteriophages, which are bacterial viruses, are naturally found in every environment where bacteria are found, and the human gut is no exception. Because phages are as abundant as their hosts, they might be involved in regulating them in many ways by killing specific bacteria, transferring virulence or antibiotic resistance genes to them, for example, but we currently don't have a clear understanding of what they do and how they do it. This is a fairly new and exciting field of research." Corinne Maurice, assistant professor in McGill's Department of Microbiology and Immunology and senior author of the new study Distinct viruses in healthy and stunted children Related Stories
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