South Korean researchers have found that certain common gut bacteria produce compounds that inhibit SARS-CoV-2.
The research was presented on June 20 at World Microbe Forum, an online meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS), and several other societies that taking place online June 20-24.
Previous clinical findings had shown that some patients with moderate to severe COVID experience gastrointestinal symptoms, while others show signs of infection in the lungs only.
“We wondered whether gut resident bacteria could protect the intestine from invasion of the virus,” said Mohammed Ali, a PhD student in Medicine at Yonsei University in South Korea.
To investigate this hypothesis, the researchers screened dominant bacteria inhabiting the gut for activity against SARS-CoV-2. Their efforts revealed that Bifidobacteria, already shown to suppress other bacteria such as H. pylori and have proven active against irritable bowel syndrome, had such activity, said Ali. Bifidobacteria are common in the guts of breast fed infants, which is partly driven by the bifidogenic activities of specific mother milk-derived oligosaccharides
The researchers also searched for potential illness-fighting compounds in databases containing microbially produced molecules, and discovered some that might also be useful against SARS-CoV-2. “To train our model we leveraged previous coronavirus datasets in which several compounds were tested against targets from coronaviruses,” explained Ali. “This approach seems to be significant as those targets share features in common with SARS-CoV-2.”
Ali emphasised the ecological nature of his approach to this work, pointing out that numerous existing antibiotics and cancer therapies are themselves compounds that bacteria use to compete with each other within the gastrointestinal tract, and that these were initially purified from microbial secretions.
“Finding microbes that secrete anti-coronavirus molecules will be a promising method to develop natural or engineered probiotics to expand our therapeutics prevention techniques, to provide a more sustainable way to combat the viral infection,” said Ali.