Transkingdom Analysis of the Female Reproductive Tract Reveals Bacteriophages form Communities

The female reproductive tract (FRT) microbiome plays a vital role in maintaining vaginal health. Viruses are key regulators of other microbial ecosystems, but little is known about how the FRT viruses (virome), particularly bacteriophages that comprise the phageome, impact FRT health and dysbiosis. We hypothesize that bacterial vaginosis (BV) is associated with altered FRT phageome diversity, transkingdom interplay, and bacteriophage discriminate taxa. Here, we conducted a retrospective, longitudinal analysis of vaginal swabs collected from 54 BV-positive and 46 BV-negative South African women. Bacteriome analysis revealed samples clustered into five distinct bacterial community groups (CGs), and further, bacterial alpha diversity was significantly associated with BV. Virome analysis on a subset of baseline samples showed FRT bacteriophages clustering into novel viral state types (VSTs), a viral community clustering system based on virome composition and abundance. Distinct BV bacteriophage signatures included increased alpha diversity along with discriminant <i>Bacillus</i>, <i>Burkholderia,</i> and <i>Escherichia</i> bacteriophages. Bacteriophage-bacteria transkingdom associations were also identified between <i>Bacillus</i> and <i>Burkholderia</i> viruses and BV-associated bacteria, providing key insights for future studies elucidating the transkingdom interactions driving BV-associated microbiome perturbations. In this cohort, bacteriophage-bacterial associations suggest complex interactions, which may play a role in the establishment and maintenance of BV.