The future of gut microbiome may lie in bacteriophages
Medicine may move on to fingerprinting the gut microbiome and developing bacteriophage-based treatments in the future, says an expert at the 38th Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) annual congress.
The human microbiota consists of bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses—of which, the least understood are the viruses. The microbiota gene pool is known as the microbiome. Bacteriophages are viruses that live within the bacteria in the gut, said paediatric gastroenterologist Professor Tony Catto-Smith, Director of Gastroenterology, Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia. The relationship between bacteria and bacteriophage is unclear, but bacteriophages may increase bacteria’s sensitivity to antibiotics making them potential therapeutic targets.
Majority of the microbiota lies in the gut. Cultures and 16S rRNA gene sequencing have shown that the human microbiome is diverse and species rich, said Catto-Smith. The gut microbiome is involved in protein and metabolic pathways, and is influenced by a variety of factors such as age, environment and diet. An infant’s gut microbiome is highly dynamic and becomes more stable with age; the microbiome becomes increasingly rich whereas bacteriophage richness and diversity decreases. [Nat Med 2015;21(10):1228–1234]
A diverse gut microbiome appears to confer protection against several diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, necrotizing enterocolitis and atopy. Studies have analyzed the potential of modulating the gut microbiome through the use of pre-, pro- and synbiotics to manage conditions related to the gut microbiome. For instances, faecal microbial transplant for the treatment of Clostridium difficile-related diarrhoea and probiotics for the prevention and treatment of allergies.
Recently, researches have been focusing on the role of viruses in the microbial ecosystem, he said. It has been shown that bacteriophages dominate the gut virome. [Front Cell Infect Microbiol 2014;4:39] Little is known about bacteriophages, and they have been indicated as one of the causes of dysbiosis. Bacteriophages may be able to change bacterial population equilibrium or modulate the immune system. More research is needed to explore the role of viruses and their potential as therapeutic modalities.
The human microbiome has more than 100-times the number of human genes. An estimated 3 million of the bacterial genes are found in the gut. [Nature 2012;489(7415):250–256]