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This post was edited by Hinge at 2017-4-17 15:23|
The doctors were stumped. Their patient clearly had hepatitis – his inflamed liver and jaundiced eyes acted as a dead giveaway – but they had no idea what caused it, having ruled out all known suspects. Befuddled, they turned the case over to immunologists at the Jichi Medical School, who quickly set to work.
The investigators soon spotted a strange genome sequence in the patient's blood serum. The curious pattern of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts in the DNA readout revealed the presence of a virus, one that had never seen before. Though the researchers didn't realize it at the time, the mysterious newcomer was not the cause of the patient's ailment. As subsequent research over the following decades would show, they had actually stumbled upon the first member of a family of viruses that infects almost everybody!
Anelloviruses, as they are now called, reside in both humans and animals. The more than 200 known species dwell in saliva, urine, perspiration, tears, feces, semen, skin, tumors, cerebrospinal fluid, and many more locations. Their near ubiquity makes them incredibly easy to catch. Every single human on Earth is probably infected with at least one anellovirus.
Yet despite the fact that we are walking around brimming with these miniscule interlopers, we aren't incessantly plagued with medical malaise. This fascinating state of affairs necessitated a rethink of our relationship with viruses. Once considered to be the bane of living organisms, many viruses are now considered commensal – they benefit while leaving their hosts unharmed. Anelloviruses, for example, seem to require a host polymerase, the enzyme that synthesizes nucleic acids, to replicate. They need us. Scientists have even postulated that we may need them.
Romanian researchers hypothesize that the viruses' constant infection may grant a small boost to the immune system, providing perpetual target practice of sorts.
And yet, their benign companionship is called into question by numerous studies linking their increased prevalence with various diseases. More anelloviruses are present when the immune system is weaker. Moreover, some scientists hypothesize that their constant presence prompts persistent inflammation, which could hinder overall health. However, researchers have yet to identify precisely how anelloviruses could cause any of the conditions they are associated with. Innocent, until proven harmful.