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Meet crAssphage, virus living in the gut of millions of humans

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The virus is a type of bacteriophage otherwise known as "phage." This type of virus can infect bacteria. In the case of the crAssphage virus, the bacteria that it infects comes from the genus Bacteroides which thrive in a person's gut.

While the virus has never been known to exist and has never been visible under a radar, it is actually the most common and abundant type of virus that dwells in a person's gut. The most interesting feature is perhaps the virus' preference to co-exist with the Bacteroides as opposed to existing naked and alone inside the human intestine. 

"We suspect this virus is very important in regulating the number of these bacteria in the intestine, " says Rob Edwards, researcher and bioinformatics professor at San Diego State University.

It was Edwards and his team of researchers which came across the gut-dwelling virus. The name of crAssphage was coined after a computational device which had been used during the initial analysis of the virus. The discovery came at a time when the National Institutes of Health was conducting a project. The latter required the scientists to study and analyzed the various types of human-dwelling bacteria. During the course the project, the scientists "accidentally" bumped into the virus while they were studying some of the genetic samples. 

In order to assess the prevalence of the virus among humans, the team analyzed human stool samples from Europe and from countries such as South Korea, Japan and the U.S. The results, according to Edwards, show that the virus is "as old as humans are." He further adds that the virus is very much prevalent and "is in every continent that we've looked at."

Whether it affects a person's health conditions or not, the virus' discovery still brought a great deal of concern. As a whole, the gut-thriving virus doesn't make a person sick. However, its coexistence with the Bacteroides may give it the ability to control a person's weight.

Scientists have estimated that the number of virus particles is even bigger than the number of human cells. Viruses are even 10 times higher in number than the bacteria. Still, viruses are hardly talked about probably because of the extreme difficulty involved in their study.

Researchers believe that the virus has the potential to be very useful in the future. For one thing, it can be used to avoid or perhaps even mitigate other gut-related diseases such as those that are gastroenterological in nature.

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