Anti-coronavirus molecules from microbes could be key to new treatments

Microbes in the gut that produce beneficial compounds could hold the key to treating coronavirus symptoms.

Gut Microbiome

Gut Microbiome. Image Credit: Anatomy Image/

Harnessing the gut microbiome to fight SARS-CoV-2

Commensal bacteria in the human intestine have been found to produce compounds that inhibit SARS-CoV-2.

The findings presented at the World Microbe Forum, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), and the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) as well as other societies by researchers from Yonsei University in South Korea, demonstrates a potentially new approach to fighting the treating the virus responsible for the current global coronavirus pandemic.

We wondered whether gut resident bacteria could protect the intestine from invasion of the virus,"

Mohammed Ali, a Ph.D. student in Medicine at Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea

This hypothesis was derived from the fact that previous clinical findings have shown that patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 may show gastrointestinal symptoms, while others showed signs of infection solely in the lungs.

However, mounting clinical evidence suggests that microbes in the gastrointestinal system often play key roles in the severity of illnesses from chronic to acute diseases ranging from neurological to respiratory infections. Indeed, gut flora in particular is gaining increasing interest due to its potential benefits in maintaining healthy microbe diversity and abundance.

To investigate whether gut microbes play a role in fighting SARS-CoV-2, the researchers screened dominant bacteria inhabiting the gut for activity against SARS-CoV-2.

Their search revealed that Bidobacteria, previously shown to suppress other bacteria such as H. pylori and have proven active against irritable bowel syndrome, had such anti-Covid activity.

Further developments using machine learning and future research

The scientists also employed machine learning to search for potential illness-fighting compounds in databases containing microbially produced molecules, discovering some that might also prove useful against SARS-CoV-2.

The models learnt from previous studies that investigated microbial roles in fighting coronavirus, basing the data on already known information to ensure the quality of model findings.

"To train our model we leveraged previous coronavirus datasets in which several compounds were tested against targets from coronaviruses," said Mr. Ali. "This approach seems to be significant as those targets share features in common with SARS-CoV-2."

This is particularly effective as many existing antibiotics and cancer therapies are compounds that bacteria use to compete within the gastrointestinal tract. These compounds were then purified from microbial secretions to form effective treatments.  

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,"

Using the two-pronged approach of developing effective models combined with clinical trials of probiotics could provide key insights into how microbes may limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Although this may not prevent individuals from being infected, viral replication and symptom severity may be reduced through such treatments.

Moreover, recovery capacity could also be enhanced, which could be particularly beneficial in high-risk patients, further supporting the potential for microbial approaches as promising candidates in the fight against coronavirus.

James Ducker

Written by

James Ducker

James completed his bachelor in Science studying Zoology at the University of Manchester, with his undergraduate work culminating in the study of the physiological impacts of ocean warming and hypoxia on catsharks. He then pursued a Masters in Research (MRes) in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth focusing on the urbanization of coastlines and its consequences for biodiversity.  


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