Something Fish About Diabetes


Even though millions of people have diabetes, we don't fully understand all the causes of this illness. Now a discovery is raising more questions.

Scientists learned four viruses that infect fish also have the ability to make insulin-like proteins. This is significant because if viruses can do this and there's a version that infects humans, then could they trigger the development of diabetes? That's because our bodies would recognize the viral insulin as an invader and attack it, but in doing so, attack our own insulin due to their similarity. This discovery further suggests that microbes play a role in autoimmune disease as well as some cancers. So, is it possible that when we eat certain foods, we're also ingesting microbes that open us to infection?

Scientists made their discovery by searching databases of viral genomes for those that can encode proteins similar to human ones such as hormones. Of the sixty-two regulatory proteins they searched for, sixteen viruses made similar proteins. They include some common viruses. To test whether these viral hormones would work with human cells, scientists made a synthetic version of the insulin produced by one virus is called VILP. VILPs actually bound to human receptors and lowered blood sugar levels. Fecal samples from humans do contain some of these viruses but we don't know if the VILPs are present in humans.

This discovery may open a whole new field which the study authors termed microbial endocrinology. Should we blame our love of fish? It's way too early to tell. I wouldn't stop ordering it just yet.

More Information

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