THURSDAY, July 15, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Each person has a unique collection of what could be described as friendly viruses in their lower intestine, new research shows.
U.S. researchers studied female identical twins and their mothers and found that even each identical twin had a distinctive viral "fingerprint" in the lower intestine. The study appears in the July 15 issue of the journal Nature.
In addition, more than 80 percent of the viruses were novel -- that is, they had never before been discovered, according to the researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
These friendly viruses are believed to influence the activities of gut microbes that offer a number of benefits, including helping humans digest certain components of our diets (such as plant-based carbohydrates) that we're unable to digest on our own, the study authors explained in a university news release.
The viruses also may act as indicators of the overall health of the microbial community in the gut as it deals with challenges or recovers after an illness or treatment, they noted.
"Viruses are the major predators on planet Earth," senior author Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, director of Washington University's Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, said in the news release.
"Much of the information we have about viruses that live together with bacteria comes from studies of environmental habitats, like the ocean," Gordon explained. "We wanted to know the nature of viruses and their lifestyle in the most populous microbial community that inhabits our bodies -- the one in our gut."
The researchers plan to investigate how these friendly viruses establish themselves in the gut and how they're influenced by the nutritional status of their host.
To learn more about viruses, visit the California Institute of Technology.