Research Presented in an Oral Session at ASM Microbe 2017: Bacteriophages are Potential New Human Pathogens

Bacteriophages are Potential New Human Pathogens

Human Microbiology Institute Research the First to Demonstrate that Bacteriophages Can Alter Gut Microbiome Causing Increased Gut Permeability, Which is Associated with Human Diseases

 Research Presented in an Oral Session at American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Microbe 2017


NEW YORK, NY, June 5, 2017 — Human Microbiology Institute (HMI), a not-for-profit scientific research organization founded by Drs. Victor and George Tetz, today presented data that demonstrate for the first time how viruses pathogenic to bacteria, called bacteriophages, can play a role in the development of mammalian disease. The study, conducted by Drs. V. and G. Tetz, was presented by Dr. G. Tetz in an oral session at American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Microbe 2017, June 1–5, 2017, in New Orleans.

“Research is increasingly unveiling the complexity of the human microbiome and how its perturbation can impact human health,” said Adriana Heguy, Ph.D., director, Genome Technology Center, and professor, Pathology, NYU Langone Medical Center. “We now know that diet, health status, antibiotics and other drugs can cause the microbiome to be altered. This study was designed to further investigate the potential impact of bacteriophages on the gut microbiome that may result in changes in gut permeability, an important cause of many human diseases.”

Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and replicate in bacteria. Bacteriophages are very prevalent in the environment and the human gut. Gut microbiota modulates all components of gut barrier function (1). Perturbations in the microbiota can alter these functions resulting in increased intestinal permeability (2, 3). Gut exposure to environmental bacteriophages could result in changes in gut microbiota that could be pathogenic. An earlier study conducted by HMI demonstrated that bacteriophages could increase gut permeability (4). This current study demonstrates that changes in gut permeability are correlated with changes in the prevalence of gut microbiota species.

This study evaluated the effects of exposure to bacteriophages, administered orally, on the intestinal permeability and relative abundance of different bacteria in the gut microbiome of rats. The investigators found that there was an increase in each of several biomarkers of increased gut permeability including the lactulose/mannitol ratio, plasma endotoxin concentrations and inflammatory cytokine serum levels. Associated with the increase in gut permeability was a change in the relative abundance of several species of gut bacteria including reductions in Lactobacillus spp. and Faecalibacterium spp., both of which are known to be beneficial to mammals and for which their depletion is associated with gut barrier abnormalities, as well as increases and decreases in other bacteria groups. The results demonstrated that exposure to bacteriophages can both alter the microbiota and cause increased gut wall permeability. This is important because increased permeability is associated with challenging diseases, such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease and autism and psychiatric diseases. This research for the first time suggests that bacteriophages could produce the conditions for these diseases to occur.

“HMI’s mission is to develop new treatments for currently poorly or untreatable diseases by focusing on the undiscovered role of the human microbiota in human health and lifespan,” said George Tetz, M.D., Ph.D., founder and chairman of HMI and lead author of the study. “The results of this study further that goal by demonstrating that a pathogen of bacteria, previously considered to be safe for mammals can alter the gut microbiome and also cause gut permeability and inflammatory biomarker increases that have been associated in a variety of inflammatory diseases in humans. Our near-term objective is to further explore this relationship so that we better understand how an indirect pathogen, such as bacteriophages can be responsible for human disease and, ultimately, to develop treatments to prevent bacteriophage-induced illness.”


  1. Cani, P. D., Bibiloni, R., Knauf, C., Waget, A., Neyrinck, A. M., Delzenne, N. M., & Burcelin, R. (2008). Changes in gut microbiota control metabolic endotoxemia-induced inflammation in high-fat diet–induced obesity and diabetes in mice.Diabetes,57(6), 1470-1481.
  2. de Punder, K., & Pruimboom, L. (2015). Stress induces endotoxemia and low-grade inflammation by increasing barrier permeability.Frontiers in immunology,6, 223.
  1. Tlaskalová-Hogenová, H. et al (2011). The role of gut microbiota (commensal bacteria) and the mucosal barrier in the pathogenesis of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases and cancer: contribution of germ-free and gnotobiotic animal models of human diseases.Cellular and Molecular Immunology,8(2), 110.
  1. Tetz, G., & Tetz, V. (2016). Bacteriophage infections of microbiota can lead to leaky gut in an experimental rodent model.Gut Pathogens,8(1), 33.


About The Human Microbiology Institute

The Human Microbiology Institute (HMI), founded by Drs. Victor and George Tetz in 2015, is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that has formed collaborations with universities, research organizations, hospitals, biotech companies, and other life science organizations with the objective of identifying and researching previously unexplored processes that cause human disease. These collaborations yield a multidisciplinary approach and provide a broad range of technical and theoretical expertise. HMI performs breakthrough research for the public interest that results in novel translational approaches to medicine. HMI is addressing some of society’s biggest medical challenges and unmet medical needs in such areas as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, metabolic disorders, various cancers, age-related infectious diseases, spreading of antibiotic resistance, etc. Dr. V. Tetz has over 45 years of experience in microbiological research and discovery. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers and numerous patents in the fields of microbiology and drug discovery. He serves as scientific advisor and is responsible for strategic planning for HMI. Dr. G. Tetz has over 17 years of experience in microbiological research. He has published over 40 peer-reviewed papers in the fields of microbiology and drug discovery and development. More information can be found at


HMI Contact:

George Tetz, M.D., Ph.D.



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Cari P. Randall

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