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Rise of the virome

Tapping the virome to predict GvHD

With at least a dozen companies having advanced microbiome-based therapies to the clinic, researchers have started looking beyond bacteria to other types of microbes that inhabit the gut. In Nature Medicine last month, a UCSF team raised the profile of the virome by showing specific viral species could become the first biomarker for predicting the onset of GvHD.

Although research in the microbiome has seen a rapid growth in the last few years, the vast majority of studies have focused on bacteria. But the microbial community inhabiting humans also includes viruses, fungi and archaea that could contribute to disease, which have been relatively underexplored.

The virome -- the collection of all viruses residing in the body -- contains bacteriophages, which interact with bacteria in the microbiome, and human viruses, of both the RNA and DNA variety.

Funders are starting to push for more studies on the non-bacterial microbes. A 2014 Working Group on the Microbiome held by NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) identified studies of the human virome a key priority. Last year, the institute launched its first call for proposals and awarded four grants totalling $1.1 million for FY17 for projects exploring the virome in the lungs and respiratory tract.

A key limitation has been that until recently the next-generation sequencing (NGS) tools used to interrogate commensal bacteria weren't sophisticated enough

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