trillions and trillions
September 10, 2015 10:39 AM   Subscribe

We live in a world filled with viruses; they are everywhere that host species exist.
The Human Virome's Permanent Mark
The virome doesn’t get as much love as its charismatic older brother, the microbiome. Studies of the bacteria that live inside us have caught the public imagination, showing that we contain a teeming diversity of critters whose populations affect everything from our diets to our immune systems. Thanks to cheap DNA sequencing, you can send samples of your microbiome to a lab and have a quick census taken; services like American Gut will even give you a colorful chart showing you which bacteria have been found and in what numbers. (Strictly the virome is part of the microbiome, which includes all the viruses, protozoa, and fungi living in one environment ― but bacteria are the stars of the show.)

Emerging View of the Human Virome, Kristine M. Wylie, George M. Weinstock, and Gregory A. Storch
The human virome is the collection of all viruses that are found in or on humans, including both eukaryotic and prokaryotic viruses. Eukaryotic viruses clearly have important effects on human health, ranging from mild, self-limited acute or chronic infections to those with serious or fatal consequences. Prokaryotic viruses can also affect human health by impacting bacterial community structure and function. Therefore, definition of the virome is an important step toward understanding how microbes affect human health and disease. We review progress in virome analysis, which has been driven by advances in high-throughput, deep sequencing technology. Highlights from these studies include the association of viruses with clinical phenotypes and description of novel viruses that may be important pathogens. Together these studies indicate that analysis of the human virome is critical as we aim to understand how microbial communities affect human health and disease. Descriptions of the human virome will stimulate future work to understand how the virome affects long-term human health, immunity, and response to co-infections. Ultimately analysis of the virome may affect the treatment of patients with a variety of clinical syndromes.
A Roadmap to the Human Virome (NCBI), Eric Delwart

Your Inner Lions: Get to Know Your Virome, Carl Zimmer

The vast virome - Scientists are just beginning to get a handle on the many roles of viruses in the human ecosystem
posted by the man of twists and turns (10 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The whole human body ecosystem flora and fauna (and whatever the fuck viruses are) concept is one of those things that is at once entirely logical and entirely HOLYFUCKGETITOFFME.

But yeah, it's fascinating. I grew up thinking that the human body was only made up of human cells. And that any non-human thing that got into the body was going to be destroyed by white blood cells as an invader, or something. And then later I learned that we have bacteria in our gut that help us digest our food, and those are necessary. And then more lately, OH LOOK WE ARE FULL OF TINY LIVING THINGS THAT AREN'T REALLY US ALL THE TIME.

That's actually kind of cool. I bet we're going to make some big leaps in medical understanding in the next decade or so based on all this.
posted by hippybear at 10:53 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

At some point I'm sure they'll discover that it's actually the virii in the brain that do our actual thinking, and that we don't technically exist.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:00 AM on September 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

Pshaw, no way I'm clicking on these links! My grandson told me never to click on virus links!
posted by Sunburnt at 11:15 AM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Thanks to my day job I've been reading research on the human microbiome, and it's absolutely fascinating. A study last year surveyed the bacteria living on Demodex folliculorum -- microscopic mites that live on the skin of nearly all humans -- and found 92 species, including 36 never before documented on humans. A couple of the strains were previously only found in the guts of bees.

So not only do we have microscopic bugs, bacteria and virii on us, but some of the things that are on us have things on them. It's microbes all the way down.
posted by me3dia at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, the subhead "Is There Antibody in There?" in the second link is pure punning genius. (I almost typed genus.)
posted by me3dia at 11:22 AM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Depends on how you think about it, doesn't it? I mean, are the residents of Manhattan part of what makes it Manhattan? Turns out we aren't really us either, in a lot of the ways we used to think about ourselves, unless you take a more open, more flexible view of what a person is. But it definitely does require a major overhaul of how we usually think about our identities to fold all this new information in without feeling a little disorientation.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:27 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Big bugs have lesser bugs
Upon their backs to bite 'em
And lesser bugs have smaller bugs
And so ad infinitum

We really are more viral than you'd think. Something like eight percent of our DNA is fossil retrovirus, quite probably integrated before we were H. sapiens, and some of that is probably still playing a part in our system.

It's not just the human virome that's jaw-dropping. I watched a series of lectures on YouTube about virus biology - 10^20 viral infections occur A SECOND in the oceans, releasing huge amounts of carbon, 94 percent of all oceanic life, by creature count, is viral, and while 50 percent of the atmospheric oxygen comes from oceanic algae, 20 percent of those algae die every day because of viral infection.

I tell you, every time I get peeved at the poor coverage of science in the mainstream media, I find Youtube an all-you-can-eat buffet of the good stuff (although I think I've watched every worthwhile video on pulsar physics by now. Anyone know of a stash of more? I'm jonesin' here...)
posted by Devonian at 11:46 AM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you want to get really bonkers abstract about it, you could think of ova and spermatozoa as two separate microorganisms with a bizarrely elaborate codependent method of reproduction--a method which also depends on all these other microorganisms pitching in, and which others still (STDs etc.) depend on for their own propagation.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:52 AM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

No comments on the eponysterical connection with DNA and the poster yet? Surprised.
posted by weston at 3:26 PM on September 10, 2015

Viruses can be killed by other viruses which depend on them; those sub-viruses can themselves have parasites.

For instance, Adenoviruses and Herpesviruses may run into Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) hiding in the human genome. Once Adeno or Herpesvirus replication starts, AAV takes over and kills the cell and the infecting virus.

AAV may spawn Defective Interfering Particles (DIPs) which are non-replication competent subregions of the genome that can inhibit the parental replication. You can also get single RNA and DNA molecules that parasitize the parental sequence (which itself might be a DIP).

Pretty much anything that replicates will eventually create a sub-version that uses molecular replication cues to parasitize the process. Evolution demands that both cancer and viruses exist.
posted by benzenedream at 6:43 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

« Older Tor, libraries, and the Department of Homeland...   |   Mefite Commune? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments