As the crisis caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus significantly impacts billions of lives worldwide, one of the big questions being asked is why we are seeing such a disparity in the severity of disease symptoms from person to person. Understanding this key characteristic of the disease is likely to have far-ranging implications for how effective future potential treatments may be developed against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
To this end researchers have recently discovered that the gut microbiome may, in part, hold the key to answering this question, as initial reports from China indicate that bacteria in the human gut may have a significant impact on how recovering study subjects develop an immunity against SARS-CoV-2. In this report, many study subjects with the SARS-CoV-2 virus displayed intestinal microbial dysbiosis, which was associated with a decrease in probiotic organisms such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Such cases were often accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms, leading the authors of the study to recommend that nutritional and gastrointestinal function be assessed for all study subjects with SARS-CoV-2 virus. Furthermore, the authors proposed that the use of probiotics in cases where severe gastrointestinal symptoms are observed might be of benefit .
Conversely however, based on a review of the available evidence, another group has argued that there is insufficient evidence to support the blind use of conventional probiotics as a supplement for study subjects, until much more is known about the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 and its association with the gut microbiome. The authors of this study suggest that more targeted therapeutic approach to modulation of the gut microbiome is likely to be needed .
Authors of another preliminary study  have also suggested that the composition of a person’s gut microbiome may be predictive of how likely they are to develop severe symptoms after being infected with SARS-CoV2. In this study the authors highlighted that over 60 percent of study subjects with SARS-CoV-2 virus have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and that this group of patients also tended to have a more serious or critical form of the disease. The authors in this study examined the blood of 31 study subjects with SARS-CoV-2 virus, isolating 20 proteins associated with the severity of the disease that included immune factors known to be elevated during systemic inflammation.
Based on these results the researchers have created a ‘proteomic risk score’ (PRS) that they say could predict the severity of the disease. Using machine learning algorithms, the researchers were able to correlate the PRS to gut microbiome compositions of research subjects’ fecal samples, demonstrating the gut microbiome association to COVID-19 disease severity. An outcome of this analysis was the identification of specific bacterial species that were positively or negatively correlated with inflammation, including Ruminococcus gnavus and Clostridia.
Taken together, these initial findings suggest a potential role for the gut microbiome in the pathogenesis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Ion AmpliSeq Microbiome Health Research Kit has been designed to enable researchers to study the impact of the gut microbiome on human health. With a large number of bacterial species known to have anti-viral properties included on the panel, this targeted NGS based assay provides the specificity, at the species level resolution, needed to characterize key gut microbes known to be associated with immune modulation. Eight of the nine hypervariable 16S rRNA gene regions are also include in this panel to provide efficient and comprehensive assessment of microbial diversity and composition for effective profiling of the microbiome.
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