The findings, published on the journal Nature Communications, were carried out by a team led by Professor Maite Muniesa, from the Research Group on Microbiology of Waters related to the Health (MARS) of the UB’s Faculty of Biology. Due to their characteristics, the new viruses are seen as potential indicators of fecal contamination in humans. In addition, the group wants to focus on studying whether the presence and the abundance of crass phages — specifically crAssBcn phages — is different between healthy individuals and people affected by certain diseases (intestinal, metabolic or even nervous system).
“As far as we know, crAssBcn phages are very specific to the human microbiota and so far, we have not found them in the microbiota of other animals”, notes Maite Muniesa, lecturer at the Microbiology section of the UB’s Department of Genetics, Microbiology and Statistics. “Their biological role is still unknown, but being such abundant phages that infect a bacterial genus (Bacteroides) also abundant in the human intestine, it is suspected that they may have a regulatory role in bacterial populations and some influence on the human intestinal microbiota.
The UB identifies 25 of the 32 crAssphage viruses known to date
Since 2014, only four groups had been able to isolate a total of seven crAssphage-like viruses. Now, the UB team has identified 25 new phages at once, significantly expanding the global map of this group of viruses that are highly prevalent in the world population. Moreover, crAssBcn, despite being native to the Barcelona area, are widely distributed and have been detected in 51% of intestinal metagenomes worldwide.
Ramos Barbero, M.D.; Gómez Gómez, C.; Sala Comorera, L. et al. “Characterization of crAss-like phage isolates highlights Crassvirales genetic heterogeneity and worldwide distribution”. Nature Communications, July 2023. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-40098-z