Reyes, et al., from Gordon’s team, aimed to characterize microbial community development in healthy and malnourished children aged zero to three. They studied Malawian twin pairs: those concordant for healthy growth, and those in which one developed severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and the other did not — that is, discordant pairs.

DNA analysis of virus-like particles in fecal microbiota allowed the researchers to demonstrate that phages plus members of specific virus families differentiated the concordant twin pairs from the discordant pairs. In healthy twins, researchers observed that the viral components of the microbiota went through different stages during the first three years. This program of postnatal development was delayed in both members of discordant twin pairs, showing that even the ‘healthy’ member of a discordant twin pair had a virome associated with SAM. Therapeutic foods did not correct the delay.

This paper provides a preliminary model of normal and abnormal acquisition of the gut microbiota’s viral components in humans. More broadly, it demonstrates the potential of including viruses in the definition and understanding of gut microbiota functions.


Reyes A, et al. (2015) Gut DNA viromes of Malawian twins discordant for severe acute malnutrition. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1514285112