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J Appl Microbiol. 2009 Jul;107(1):1-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2009.04143.x. Epub 2009 Feb 23.

The bacteriophages in human- and animal body-associated microbial communities.

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Winogradsky Institute of Microbiology RAS, Moscow, Russia.


Felix d'Herelle first demonstrated, about 90 years ago, the presence of bacteriophages in human and animal body microbiota. Our comprehension of the impact of naturally occurring bacteriophages on symbiotic bacteria, and of their role in general homeostasis of macro-organism, nevertheless remains quite fragmentary. Analysis of data in various human- and animal body-associated microbial systems on phage occurrence, diversity, host specificity and dynamics, as well as host occurrence, specificity and dynamics, suggests that mechanisms which stabilize phage-bacteria coexistence are not identical for either different species or different body sites. Regulation by phage infection instead probably depends on specific physical, chemical and biological conditions, e.g. pH, nutrient densities, host prevalence, relation to mucosa and other surfaces and presence of phage inhibiting substances. In some animal species intestinal bacteriophages thus appear to exert significant selective pressure over at least some resident bacterial populations, resulting in phages playing important roles in the self-regulation of these microbial systems while at the same time contributing to maintenance of bacterial diversity (i.e. 'killing the winner'). Emerging data additionally suggest that bacteriophage particles could play roles in regulating the immune reactions of the macro-organism. Alternatively, for many systems links between phages and community characteristics have not been established.

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