We may understand enough about the human body to have invented aspirin and sequenced the genome, but researchers are still discovering new things about the humble homo sapien all the time. Case in point? Scientists hangs in the human gut and mouth. Researchers call these virus-like structures “obelisks” because of their supposed microscopic shape.
These entities reproduce like viruses, but are smaller and simpler. Because of their small size, they usually fall into the class of “viroids,” which are single-stranded RNAs without a protein coat. However, most viroids are infectious agents that cause disease, and these slime obelisks do not.
So why are they inside us and what do they do? That’s the big question. Researchers at Stanford University, the University of Toronto and the Technical University of Valencia have some theories. Although they are also present in the mouth, they can influence gene activity in the human microbiome. To this end, they were discovered using the common oral-based bacterium Streptococcus sanguinis as a host. These viroids are thought to infect a variety of bacteria in both the mouth and gut, although we don’t know why.
Some obelisks contain instructions for the enzymes needed for replication, so they seem more complex than your average viroid. In any case, the “chicken and egg” debate over whether viruses evolved from viroids, or whether viroids actually evolved from viruses, has been going on for years, so further research may finally put this debate to rest.
Although we don’t know exactly what these obelisk sequences do, scientists have discovered how widespread they are in our bodies. These sequences are found in about 7 percent of human gut bacteria and 50 percent of oral bacteria. Gut-based structures have different RNA sequences compared to mouth-based obelisks. This diversity has led the researchers to declare that “human and global microbiomes are comprised of diverse classes of RNAs that have been colonized and neglected.”
“I think this is another clear indication that we’re still exploring the boundaries of this viral universe,” said Simon Roux, a computational biologist at the DOE Collaborative Genome Institute at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Science.
“It’s crazy,” added Mark Peifer, a cell and developmental biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The more we look, the crazier we see.”
Scientists who talk about frontier medicine, too to detect cancer cells and biometric implants after replacement surgery. The human body may be as vast and mysterious as the ocean or even space, but we are slowly (always very slowly) unraveling its mysteries.