Throughout the history of mankind differentsmallpox to influenza viruses have been responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. It is not surprising that we perceive viruses as enemies. And some of them are really: SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV, swine flu, bird flu and Zika virus are among the viruses that have caused fatal outbreaks in recent years. This list is long and constantly growing. However, it is also true that the vast majority of viruses do not infect humans or mammals at all - many viruses can be useful for us, helping to improve health or saving us from other diseases. So is it worth fighting with them?
What is a virus and bacteriophage?
In everyday life, it’s extremely easy to forget aboutgerms, viruses and bacteria, but most of life is microscopic. And just like mammalian viruses infect animal cells, many viruses have evolved to succeed in infecting bacterial cells. These viruses are called bacteriophages (or abbreviated phages).
While bacteria are living organisms,created from a single cell, a virus is a biological organism that consists of a bundle of genetic material wrapped in a protein coat. The virus cannot exist separately, therefore it infects the host cell and captures its cellular mechanism - this allows the virus to make copies of itself. In the process of replication, it attaches to the surface of the cell and introduces its genetic material into it, thereby capturing it. It is important to understand that this principle is the same for human viruses and bacterial viruses.
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Scientists have studied bacteriophages throughoutdecades, observing how they spread through a population of bacteria, first infecting and then tearing up infected cells. And vice versa - how they coexist with amazing stability, often supporting a diverse community of bacterial species in environments such as the open ocean or the human gastrointestinal tract. They do this by preventing the growth of any kind of bacteria so that it does not become dominant, just as predators keep their prey populations under control.
As The Conversation writes, the more weunderstand phages, the more we begin to consider them as the most important component of microbial ecosystems, supporting diversity and functionality, and not acting as a pathogen. So, scientists know that diversity microbiota - communities of microorganisms living inintestines associated with human health. This connection includes the proper functioning of the immune system, the absorption of nutrients in the intestines, and even changes in mood and behavior.
Phages play a key role in maintaining this diversity and therefore at the level of the microbial ecosystem within us contribute to the overall well-being of humans.
Hugh Harris, Microbiologist at University College London
Today, when more and more dangerousbacteria develop resistance to commonly used antibiotics, phage control of bacteria is a promising strategy. Since antibiotics kill both pathogens and beneficial bacteria, researchers hope that in the future phages can be used as “programmed hunters” of bacteria.
Viruses can also be used to combatother viruses. In a recent study of rhesus monkeys and monkey immunodeficiency virus (SIV), scientists found that another virus - cytomegalovirus - can be forced to produce the same proteins as SIV. This means that another virus can be used as a vaccine against monkey immunodeficiency virus in order to teach the animal's immune system to effectively deal with SIV without being exposed to a harmful virus.
This is important because immunodeficiency viruses have becomea kind of expert on hiding from the immune system by mutation, which makes the development of a protective mechanism a very difficult task for the body. Future research will be important for HIV treatment.
You will be interested: The Evolution of Disease: A History of the Fight against Virus
In many ways, the actions of the virus are just asindifferent, like the weather outside. Just as an accurate weather forecast can save someone's life, understanding the multifaceted nature of viruses in our world can someday save you. In the end, it was the effective development and use of vaccines that nullified the catastrophic consequences of the deadliest infections in history. Knowing how the virus spreads and how it acts also allows you to inform government policy and take the necessary security measures.