Sorek et al. at the Weizmann Institute of Science recently "overheard" viruses communicating with each others via chemical signals (an unknown peptide) released into the environment and picked up both other viruses in order to coordinate molecular attacks on the host cells. The methodology for the research included infecting cultured bacteria with bacteriophages (viruses) and then filtering out both the bacteria and phages in order to leave just the peptides. When new bacteria was grown and infected with the same phages, the phages did not immediately attack the bacteria and instead remained dormant. According to Sorek et al., remaining dormant is a evolutionary technique that allows for viruses to kill off just enough host cells to continue replicating but not to many to have killed the host and end the replication cycle. Therefore, this peptide allow for viruses to gauge how many host cells to attack before remaining dormant and waiting to replicate again.
Because phages are viruses that only attack bacteria, future applications of this research could include analysis of how human viruses communicate with each other to remain dormant (e.g. HIV/AIDS, herpesviruses, etc.). Understanding these communication pathways could have extensive implications in pharmaceutical development, vaccines, and treatment plans. One way for humans to break the viral replication cycle would be to intercept newly identified communication pathways in human viruses and prevent those signals from being received by other viruses.
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~Michelle Bach (Humans and Viruses 2016-2017)