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February 17, 2020 Monday 11:45:21 AM IST

Bacteriophages may play a role in childhood stunting

Science Innovations

New research spearheaded by McGill University has discovered that bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) found in the intestinal tracts of children may play a role in childhood stunting, a significant impediment to growth that affects 22% of children under the age of five around the world. The study also suggests that because they affect the abundance and diversity of bacterial communities in the gastrointestinal tract, these viruses could also be used to improve health. The researchers believe this work offers hope of developing new cost-efficient therapies for populations where nutritional interventions, which have been shown to work, are difficult to implement and sustain in vulnerable human populations.

Earlier studies had suggested that the gut microbiome might play a role in stunting by showing that stunted children have increased numbers of disease-causing bacteria—associated with impaired digestive and absorption functions—living in their gastrointestinal tracts. But while much research has focused on the bacteria present in our gut and the influence they can have on human health, little attention has thus far been paid to other very common residents of our gastrointestinal tract – bacteriophages.

“Phages or bacteriophages, which are bacterial viruses, are naturally found in every environment where bacteria are found, and the human gut is no exception,” says Corinne Maurice, an assistant professor in McGill’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology and senior author of the new study. 

To understand how these viruses might play a role in stunting, Maurice’s team, in collaboration with the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh, collected fecal samples from 30 non-stunted and 30 unrelated stunted Bangladeshi children aged between 14 and 38 months.


Using a combination of microscopy, ribosomal gene sequencing, and metagenomics, they were able to determine that the phages found in the gut of non-stunted and stunted children are distinct. Furthermore, when gut bacteria from non-stunted children were exposed to phages from the guts of stunted children in vitro, they found that “bad” bacteria, suspected of being involved in stunting, proliferated.

Though the findings now need to be validated using a larger sample and in animal models, Maurice says that by understanding interactions between bacteria and viruses in the human gut, we might be able to one day manipulate them to improve human health.

(Content Courtesy: https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/bacteriophages-may-play-role-childhood-stunting-and-be-able-help-treat-it-320373)


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