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The Microbes in Our Gut

I mentioned these studies earlier in July, but this write-up (from Sept. 17, 2014) gives the reader some new information. From Gut Microbiota Watch:

Studies uncover 500 “hidden” microbes in the gut

Over the last few years, scientists have found that the microbes hosted in the digestive tract (the gut microbiota or gut flora) perform key functions for health. Digestion, immunity and even mental health are extremely dependent on tasks carried out by the gut bacteria.

Now, two studies have found that the human gut hosts five hundred species of microbes – and seven million microbial genes – that were unknown until now. The proportion of the gut flora that had been hidden until now may hold essential information on the origin of a range of diseases (IBD and metabolic syndrome, among others), as well as the clues on how to cure them.

The two studies were published in Nature Biotechnology in July, and come from the efforts of the MetaHIT(METAgenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract) project, a European consortium working to explore the composition of human gut microbiota.

The first of the two studies focuses on expanding the catalogue of genes that belong to microbes of the gut flora....As a result, the catalogue has increased to 10 million genes. The next step for the scientists is to find what these genes do, in order to have a better understanding of the functions performed by the microbiota.

The second of the two studies pursues an even more ambitious goal: identifying new organisms in the microbiota, rather than identifying new genes....By applying this method, the authors have found 500 species whose existence in the microbiota was previously unknown.

Interestingly, some of the subjects analysed in the study had very few of these new species. By checking who these individuals were, the authors found that they all had Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or metabolic syndrome with an inflammatory component. These findings suggest that there is a correlation between suffering from these diseases and having less diversity in these unknown species. “These species, unknown until now, will possibly make the difference between healthy and unhealthy people”, said Guarner.

This information may open the door to new strategies aimed at recovering the presence of these species through nutritional intervention. In particular, providing patients with probiotics or prebiotics,  that may help to balance their microbiota.