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The Human virome and its importance to health

Virome, health, microbiome, COVID, gut, researchers, Washington School of Medicine, gut bacteria, EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, (EMBL-EBI), DNA, RNA, lungs, brain, metagenomics, Alexandre Almeida, PhD, viruses, Gubaphage
The Human virome and its importance to health

Our virome has 380 trillion members and prompts our immune system and constantly changes the balance and strength of our microbiome; this can even explain why eating bats can cause COVID!

Your gut microbiome numbers approximately 90 trillion inhabitants to your 7 trillion cells. You are outnumbered! If that seems bad, scientists believe you have approximately 380 trillion viruses in your ‘Virome’, right now, in your body. In a 2012 study from researchers at Washington School of Medicine (1) pointed out that viruses that infected gut bacteria could affect human health by changing the microbiome community inside us.

Researchers at Wellcome Sanger Institute and EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) have now identified 140,000 viral species living in your gut – and more than half have never been even seen before (2).

The Virome is the collection of viruses living in and on our body. Not many wander freely. While some are human DNA and RNA viruses, the majority inhabit the bacteria in our gut, lungs, brain and elsewhere – these are called bacteriophages. Some are small pieces of

RNA, but the majority are whole viruses and capable of altering the genetics of the bacteria, which in turn modify messages from our own DNA.

The researchers in this study used ‘metagenomics’, to analyse the metagenomes existing in 28,060 humans and also in 2,898 from gut bacteria.

Alexandre Almeida, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at EMBL- EBI and the Wellcome Sanger Institute explained that not all viruses are actually harmful and the majority have DNA as their genetic code, unlike Covid which is an RNA virus. Secondly, the researchers found 142,000 different species of viruses in the gut and these were all taken from healthy individuals with no genetic issues.

As long ago as 2014, a group of viruses, crAssphage, was found to be the most common; this new study confirmed this and found a second large group with common lineage, which they called Gubaphage.

As with the microbiome, we all have a highly personalised virome. But viruses evolve rapidly prompting an ever-changing virome. While you own pre-existing immunity keeps you safe from them, it is easy to see how these viruses, like the bacteria in your gut actually cause an ever-changing immune system.

As your virome ‘develops’ so does your immune memory – it is built in response to all these different ‘parasites’ in your body. They strengthen it, but it can change dramatically –drugs/antibiotics, stress, poor diet, infection, binge drinking and smoking would be the obvious things.

Chris Woollams, an Oxford University Biochemist commented, “Interestingly, researchers at UC Berkeley have found (3) that bats have extremely strong immune systems capable of neutralising greater numbers of viruses, by producing an anti-viral and anti-inflammatory response. Cara Brook, a fellow at the University said that if we had to deal with the same viruses as bats, our immune system would generate so much inflammation, it would probably kill us. That’ll be Sars-Covid -2 then!


  1. Wylie, Kristine M.: Weinstock, George M; Storch, Gregory A; Oct 2012; Emerging view of the human microbiome.
  2. Massive expansion in Human virome diversity
  3. Why are bats so deadly?