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Health Relevance

How is the Human Virome program relevant to our health?

Viruses are the most abundant and diverse biological entities on earth. Trillions of viruses live inside our bodies without necessarily causing disease, but potentially having an impact on our health. The collection of viruses that call us home is the “human virome,” and it is large and diverse. Excluding the relatively small number of viruses that cause obvious clinical disease, viruses are largely understudied. There are numerous knowledge gaps in the field, including:

  • Taxonomic composition/diversity and dynamics of the human virome across tissues, over time, and among diverse populations across the lifespan
  • Timing/mechanisms of virome establishment
  • Host cells that support viral replication
  • Interactions between virome and host immunity
  • Virome role in shaping host microbiome
  • Functional and multi-omic studies
  • Impacts of the ‘exposome’
  • Technical hurdles in viral particle isolation, virome quantification, and in vitro viral propagation
  • Animal models to enable virome establishment and functional studies
  • Standardized protocols and consistency between studies
  • Human virome reference sequence database
  • Bioinformatics/machine learning tools to annotate viral “dark matter” and distinguish environmental background/contamination from authentic sequences

The NIH Common Fund is launching the Human Virome Program to address these critical gaps. The program aims to characterize the “healthy” human virome, remove technological roadblocks, and define the virome’s role in human health and disease. Investigating the human microbiome – the collection of microbes that live in and on us – profoundly changed our understanding of the role our microbe partners play in keeping us healthy. It also led to the discovery of new biomarkers for health and disease and gave us new approaches for developing therapeutics. We hope the Human Virome Program will do the same for viruses.

Human Virome Program projects will:

  • Characterize the human virome using longitudinal, diverse human cohorts across the lifespan
  • Develop tools, models, and methods to interrogate and annotate the human virome
  • Elucidate the interactions between the human host and the virome

This page last reviewed on January 25, 2024