Home / News / World /  Viruses ‘watch’ us to decide when to attack: Study

Viruses decide when to remain dormant inside their hosts and when to grow and break out, destroying the host cell, utilising information from their environment. According to recent findings, viruses take advantage of their abilities to observe their surroundings. However, one of the authors warned that in the future "we could exploit it to their detriment".

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The interaction between a virus and its host is made even more intricate by a virus's ability to sense its environment, including components produced by its host, says Ivan Erill, the senior author on the new paper. Viruses currently take advantage of the capability for their own gain. But in the future, the professor of biological sciences says, "We could exploit it to their detriment."

The subject of the new study was bacteriophages, also known as "phages" or simply viruses that infect bacteria. The study's phages can only attack their hosts when the bacteria have unique appendages called pili and flagella that aid in movement and reproduction.

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"Everything that we know about phages, every single evolutionary strategy they have developed, has been shown to translate to viruses that infect plants and animals," Erill says. "It's almost a given. So if phages are listening in on their hosts, the viruses that affect humans are bound to be doing the same."

There are a few other instances where phages have been observed to monitor their surroundings in intriguing ways, but none include numerous phages using the same tactic to attack numerous bacterial hosts.

According to Erill, this new study is the first comprehensive proof that phages are keeping tabs on cell activity. But, he anticipates that there will be more instances. He claims that members of his group have already begun searching for receptors for additional bacterial regulatory chemicals in phages and that they are succeeding in doing so.

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This study's most important finding is that the virus uses "cellular intel" to make judgments, Erill says. Since evolution will locate and use any logical evolutionary strategy, if it occurs in bacteria, it almost certainly also occurs in plants and animals.

An animal virus might be interested in knowing the type of tissue it is in or the strength of the host's immune response in order to optimise its strategy for survival and multiplication. Though it may be disturbing to consider all the data viruses could amass and potentially utilise to make us sicker, these discoveries also provide opportunities for novel treatments.

(With ANI inputs)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sounak Mukhopadhyay

Sounak Mukhopadhyay, who also goes by the name Sounak Mukherjee, has been producing digital news since 2012. He's worked for the International Business Times, The Inquisitr, and Moneycontrol in the past. He's also contributed to Free Press Journal and TheRichest with feature articles. He covers news for a wide range of subjects including business, finance, economy, politics and social media. Before working with digital news publications, he worked as a freelance content writer.
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