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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Internal War Zone

Published May 22, 2013 3:59 PM by Michael Jones

The more we learn about our own bodies, the more it seems like there’s just an endless war going on in there. Scientists have long since known about helpful bacteria inside of our bodies that help prevent infections, but an article from Medical News Today cited a US study from researchers at San Diego State University that noted viruses within the human body that also perform defensive tasks. Post-Doctoral Fellow, James Barr, and his research team dubbed the protective viruses “bacteriophages.”

“Taking previous research into consideration,” said Barr. “We are able to propose the Bacteriophage Adherence to Mucus -- or BAM -- is a new model of immunity, which emphasizes the important role bacteriophage play in protecting the body from invading pathogens.”

According to the article, there are 3.3 million gut flora microbes living in the mucus lining our intestine. To put that into perspective, that number is only slightly less than the entire population of Los Angeles, CA. The article compares the number to the 23,000 genes in the human genome, dwarfing our DNA. The researchers described the internal viruses as a new kind of immune system, with bacteriophages “not host-derived,” but “recruited form the environment to live in mutually beneficial partnership” with our immune systems.

“We envision BAM influencing the prevention and treatment of mucosal infections seen in the gut and lungs,” continued Barr, “having applications for phage therapy and even directly interacting with the human immune system.”

The implications of internalized, defensive viruses, protecting us from infection could change the treatment of diseases as well as the way we study our own immune systems. Barr later noted how the discovery of the BAM model could “have a significant impact on numerous fields.” By allowing bacteriophages to counter the effects of dangerous bacteria and specifically targeting pathogens, the treatment of Crohn’s Disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases stands to improve greatly. 

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