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Recanati Family Associate Professor of Microbiology at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, Ken Cadwell, discusses the virome and how it relates to infectious and inflammatory diseases.

In this episode, you will learn the following:

  • What exactly is a virome, where it is found, and what it is comprised of
  • What a bacteriophage is, and the ways in which it can interact with bacteria to ultimately cause the production of certain toxins
  • What the inherent drawbacks are of “shotgun” sequencing for metagenomics, and how to overcome them

Understanding the role of the virome in health is an emerging field of research. In fact, many people aren’t even familiar with the term ‘virome,’ which refers to the collection of viruses that inhabit living things, which of course includes humans.

Dr. Caldwell’s lab is focused on understanding the functional consequences of viral infections primarily through the use of mouse models and cultured human cells. Through a collaborative network, Dr. Cadwell’s team is also trying to make correlations with humans directly in order to examine how viral exposure changes in individuals with certain diseases, such as irritable bowel disease (IBD).

Dr. Cadwell explains the approach they take in determining what viruses are present in a particle sample, whether it be in a mouse model or the human gut. The approach involves sequencing everything that’s there…which means sequencing a lot of bacteria and bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria. Dr. Cadwell says that about 90 to 95 percent of the viruses they sequence are identified as bacteriophage.

So, what comprises the remaining five to 10 percent of viruses? Although it’s a small percentage relatively, Dr. Cadwell explains that identifying these other viruses is of high interest because these are the viruses that infect animal cells directly, rather than bacterial cells. The team at Cadwell’s lab is interested in seeing what viruses are present in healthy people, and why.

Dr. Cadwell also shares some exciting new research findings that show the human immune system is capable of reacting to certain bacteriophages that are supposedly only inside bacteria, suggesting that researchers need to be paying a lot more attention to bacteriophages that don’t seem to directly infect animal cells.

Dr. Cadwell discusses a number of fascinating topics, including the norovirus (in mice and humans), symbiotic relationships between viruses and hosts and how they are similar to symbioses between humans and the human gut microbiome, why it’s difficult to define what constitutes a healthy microbiome, and so much more.

Tune in and check out www.cadwelllab.nyu.edu to learn more.

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