Previous clinical findings have shown that some patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 have gastrointestinal symptoms, while others have shown signs of infection only in the lungs.
“We wondered if the bacteria residing in the gut could protect the gut from invading the virus,” said Mohammed Ali, a PhD. medical student at Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea.
To investigate this hypothesis, the researchers screened dominant bacteria inhabiting the gut for activity against SARS-CoV-2. Their research found that bifidobacteria, which have previously been shown to suppress other bacteria such as H. pylori and shown to be active against irritable bowel syndrome, have such activity, Ali said.
Investigators also used machine learning to look for potential disease-fighting compounds in databases containing molecules produced by microbes, finding some that may also prove useful against SARS-CoV-2. “To train our model, we used data sets from previous coronaviruses in which several compounds were tested against coronavirus targets,” Ali said. “This approach appears to be important because these targets share common characteristics with SARS-CoV-2. “
Ali stressed the ecological nature of his approach to this work, observing that many existing antibiotics and cancer therapies are compounds that bacteria use to compete with each other in the gastrointestinal tract, and that these were initially purified of microbial secretions.
“Finding microbes that secrete anti-coronavirus molecules will be a promising method to develop natural or modified probiotics to extend our therapeutic prevention techniques, to provide a more sustainable way to fight viral infection,” said Ali.
Masters candidate Junebeom Kim also contributed to this research. Ali and Kim were supervised by Sang Sun Yoon, Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Brain Korea 21 Project for Medical Sciences, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, South Korea.
World Microbe Forum is a collaboration between the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) and several other societies, which breaks down barriers to share science and address the most pressing challenges facing the humanity is facing today.