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Obelisks: New Discoveries in Human Microbiomes



  Feb 28, 2024

Obelisks: New Discoveries in Human Microbiomes



1. What are obelisks?

Obelisks are newly discovered microscopic entities found in the human mouth and gut. They are circular bits of genetic material that self-organize into rod-like shapes and contain one or two genes.

2. How were obelisks discovered?

Obelisks were identified by a research team at Stanford University through the analysis of existing datasets from the human microbiome. They used a specialized method to detect these entities, which are circular single-stranded RNA molecules.

3. Are obelisks considered living organisms?

The classification of obelisks is complex. They share characteristics with both viruses and viroids but do not fit neatly into either category. Like viroids, they lack a protein coat; however, they contain genes that could code for proteins, similar to viruses.

4. What is the significance of obelisks?

The discovery of obelisks expands our understanding of the complexity of the human microbiome and the variety of genetic entities it harbors. Their presence and function could have implications for human health, potentially influencing the microbiome’s balance.

5. Can obelisks cause diseases?

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that obelisks cause diseases in humans. Their role, whether beneficial, harmful, or neutral to their microbial hosts and to humans, is yet to be fully understood.

6. How common are obelisks?

Obelisks are not rare. They have been found in approximately 7% of human gut microbiome datasets and 50% of mouth microbiome datasets analyzed, indicating their widespread presence across different human populations and microbiome niches.

7. Do obelisks have any known functions?

The functions of obelisks and the proteins they may produce are still under investigation. The unique nature of obulins, the major proteins encoded by obelisks, suggests they could have specific, yet unidentified roles in the microbiome.

8. Are obelisks being researched further?

Yes, ongoing research aims to elucidate the biology, evolutionary significance, and potential impact of obelisks on the human microbiome and health. The ease of culturing S. sanguinis, a bacterium associated with dental plaque that hosts obelisks, provides a valuable model for further study.

9. What could be the potential benefits of understanding obelisks?

Understanding obelisks could lead to new insights into the human microbiome’s dynamics, potentially unveiling novel therapeutic targets or strategies to maintain or restore microbial balance, which is crucial for health.

10. How do obelisks replicate?

While it is not fully understood how obelisks replicate, they likely rely on microbial host cells, such as bacteria or fungi, found within the human body. Further research is necessary to determine the specific mechanisms of replication and interaction with their hosts.


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