APC researchers grow and map out a human gut virus

4 May 2023

Image: © peterschreiber.media/Stock.adobe.com

The researchers have learned more about this prominent gut virus by growing it in a lab, in the hopes of understanding how it impacts the human microbiome.

Researchers at APC Microbiome Ireland have developed a detailed structural atlas of a prominent gut virus, to learn more about its role in shaping human health.

The researchers looked at crassviruses, which are among the most abundant and genetically diverse viruses found in the human gut. These viruses account for 95pc of all gut viruses in some individuals and are believed to have an important role in shaping the gut microbiome.

In a collaboration with the University of York, APC Microbiome scientists based at University College Cork successfully grew the gut virus in laboratory settings.

APC founding principal investigator Prof Colin Hill said these viruses are “probably the most abundant biological entities associated with humans”, so the new findings are “pretty novel and exciting”.

“Essentially, you have to be able to grow it to know it and once we had developed the ability to grow the virus here at APC, we were able to reach out to colleagues at York to help to study it in all its exquisite detail.” Hill said. “The final structure is truly beautiful and is a fitting reward for years of meticulous work at both APC and York.”

In the new study published in the scientific journal Nature, the researchers said they identified the presence of multiple cargo proteins carried by the virus. This discovery has helped the team predict how the virus injects its DNA into bacterial targets.

A new protein fold was also identified on the virus, which the team believes is a ‘gatekeeper’ that controls what is transported in and out of the viral particle. The researchers have also been able to assign functions to viral genes as a result of their structural atlas.

“This study emphasises why it is still important to put in the effort needed to study viruses in the laboratory,” said APC study co-lead Dr Andrey Shkoporov. “We can learn a lot from DNA sequencing and computational biology, but you really need to grow a virus in the lab to fully understand it and to inform future experiments.”

APC Microbiome Ireland is a Science Foundation Ireland research centre focused on uncovering the mysteries of gastrointestinal health.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic