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Going Viral: Exploring the Role Of Viruses in Our Bodies

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Science  25 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6024, pp. 1513
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6024.1513

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In the past decade, scientists have learned that the vast bacterial world inside the human body plays a role in regulating the energy we take in from food, primes the immune system, and performs a variety of other functions that help maintain our health. Now, researchers are gaining similar respect for the viruses we carry around. For a start, the variety and sheer number of viruses that inhabit us put our bacterial companions to shame. Many of the viruses prey on the bacteria in our bodies, altering their numbers and diversity and shuffling genes—including genes for antibiotic resistance—from one bacterium to another. At the International Human Microbiome Congress earlier this month, one provocative, albeit preliminary, finding emerged: Infants with unexplained fevers harbor many more viruses than healthy infants.