The Latest Research on the Human Microbiome

runningHave you kept up-to-date with the research on the human microbiome lately? If not, here’s your chance to catch up. I’ve stated many times on the blog that our health condition and brain function is shaped by the interaction between our environment/lifestyle, microbiota, and human genes. The microbiota can be thought of both as an organ and a part of our environment, and functions as a bridge between us and the external milieu in the sense that it changes in response to environmental pressures and the stimuli we subject our bodies to. This system worked just fine until we started changing our diet, lifestyle, and living conditions at a pace that was too rapid for our bodies to adapt.

When I first started writing about these topics many years ago, research projects such as the Human Microbiome project hadn’t gotten started yet, few bloggers and authors mentioned microorganisms in their writings, health practitioners and doctors who claimed that bacteria played a key role in conditions such as autism and inflammatory bowel disease were ridiculed by the mainstream medical community, and within the scientific community, virtually all of the attention was given to our human genes, while the genetic potential of the bacteria, viruses, and other invisible organisms that inhabit our body was largely overlooked.

Things have certainly changed a lot since then. It’s now becoming increasingly recognized in the scientific community that the human microbiota plays a key role in the pathogenesis of virtually all modern diseases. One of the challenges in the years to come will be to turn the scientific data into effective clinical therapies!

Pharmacutical drugs aimed at altering the microbiome may prove to be effective in the treatment of a wide range of diseases. That said, I think it’s very important to avoid the pitfall of thinking that we can fix the modern microbial mess with a couple of pills. Rather than searching for a single drug or bacterium that can cure this and that, we should probably focus on finding solutions and therapies that are based on an evolutionary understanding of the interaction between man and microbe.

In today’s post I wanted to share a selection of recently published research papers, videos, and articles on the human microbiome that I found interesting and think my readership will enjoy. Let me know in the comment section if you have any thoughts/opinions related to the articles in today’s post or if you’ve come across any interesting new research on this topic that deserves to be mentioned.

Gut Microbiota Diversity and Human Diseases: Should We Reintroduce Key Predators in Our Ecosystem?

Most of the Human diseases affecting westernized countries are associated with dysbiosis and loss of microbial diversity in the gut microbiota. The Western way of life, with a wide use of antibiotics and other environmental triggers, may reduce the number of bacterial predators leading to a decrease in microbial diversity of the Human gut. We argue that this phenomenon is similar to the process of ecosystem impoverishment in macro ecology where human activity decreases ecological niches, the size of predator populations, and finally the biodiversity. Such pauperization is fundamental since it reverses the evolution processes, drives life backward into diminished complexity, stability, and adaptability. A simple therapeutic approach could thus be to reintroduce bacterial predators and restore a bacterial diversity of the host microbiota. Read more…

Gut Microbiotas and Host Evolution: Scaling Up Symbiosis

Our understanding of species evolution is undergoing restructuring. It is well accepted that host–symbiont coevolution is responsible for fundamental aspects of biology. However, the emerging importance of plant- and animal-associated microbiotas to their hosts suggests a scale of coevolutionary interactions many-fold greater than previously considered. This review builds on current understanding of symbionts and their contributions to host evolution to evaluate recent data demonstrating similar contributions of gut microbiotas. It further considers a multilayered model for microbiota to account for emerging themes in host–microbiota interactions. Drawing on the structure of bacterial genomes, this model distinguishes between a host-adapted core microbiota, and a flexible, environmentally modulated microbial pool, differing in constraints on their maintenance and in their contributions to host adaptation. Read more…

Gut bacteria regulate nerve fibre insulation

Far from being silent partners that merely help to digest food, the bacteria in your gut may also be exerting subtle influences on your thoughts, moods, and behaviour. And according to a new study from researchers at University College Cork, your gut microbes might affect the structure and function of the brain in a more direct way, by regulating myelination, the process by which nerve fibres are insulated so that they can conduct impulses properly. Read more…

Toward a microbial Neolithic revolution in buildings

The Neolithic revolution—the transition of our species from hunter and gatherer to cultivator—began approximately 14,000 years ago and is essentially complete for macroscopic food. Humans remain largely pre-Neolithic in our relationship with microbes but starting with the gut we continue our hundred-year project of approaching the ability to assess and cultivate benign microbiomes in our bodies. Buildings are analogous to the body and it is time to ask what it means to cultivate benign microbiomes in our built environment. Read more…

Donor Species Richness Determines Faecal Microbiota Transplantation Success in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Faecal microbiota transplantation led to endoscopic and long-term (>2 years) remission in 2 out of 8 ulcerative colitis patients. Higher donor richness was associated with successful transplant. Therefore, faecal microbiota transplantation with donor prescreening could be a treatment option for selected refractory ulcerative colitis patients. Read more…

Men, Stress and the Microbiome

Research has found that prolonged stress triggers unfavorable shifts in bacterial composition and diversity. Populations of beneficial microbes die off, while colonies having adverse affects in large numbers flourish. In this state – called dysbiosis – it’s easy for health to degrade, as the bacteria are no longer capable of supporting our optimal function. An unhealthy microbiome is at the root of most health conditions today, often triggered by prolonged stress. Read more…

Microbes Meet Cancer

As the link between the microbiome and cancer becomes clearer, researchers are thinking about how they can manipulate a patient’s resident microbial communities to improve their prognosis and treatment outcomes. “Once you figure out exactly what is happening at the molecular level, if there is something promising there, I would be shocked if people don’t then go in and try to modulate the microbiome, either by using pharmaceuticals or using probiotics,” says Michael Burns, a postdoc in the lab of University of Minnesota genomicist Ran Blekhman. Read more…

Worm infection counters inflammatory bowel disease by drastically changing gut microbiome

“Our study could change how scientists and physicians think about treating IBD,” says study co-senior investigator and microbiologist Ken Cadwell, PhD, an assistant professor at NYU Langone and its Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine. “Patient testimonials and anecdotes lead many to think that worms directly cure IBD, while in reality, they act on the gut bacteria thought to cause the disease.” Read more…

Gut bacteria could help prevent cancer

Among the other results, in the mice receiving only the good bacteria, lymphoma formed only half as quickly as it did in the other mice. In addition, mice with the good bacteria lived four times longer and had less DNA damage and inflammation. Read more…

In search of a treatment for osteoporosis from the tequila agave

Dr. Mercedes López, leader of the project, states that “the consumption of fructans contained in the agave, in collaboration with adequate intestinal micriobiota, promotes the formation of new bone, even with the presence of osteoporosis.” Read more…

Changes in the Eye Microbiota Associated with Contact Lens Wearing.

As in other body sites (i.e., the gut, skin, and mouth), the eye has a normal community of bacteria which are expected to confer resistance that provides protection from invaders. However, the eye microbiome has been largely neglected and is relevant to eye health and understanding eye diseases and to discovery of its functions. This report of a baseline study shows differences in the eye microbiome of contact lens wearers in relation to those of non-lens wearers and has the potential to help future studies explore novel insights into a possible role of the microbiome in the increased risk for eye infections in contact lens wearers. Read more…

Your Roommate Is Changing Your Immune System

Could these people’s immune systems be converging because their microbiomes are adapting to their shared environment? The immune system must maintain a relationship with friendly microbes to keep them straight from the bad ones, so if partners are exposed to similar bacteria and viruses, that exposure could make their populations of immune cells more similar. The researchers point out that it’s already known that couples who live together have more similar microbiomes than strangers do, perhaps because they swap bacteria with each other or share lifestyle choices like smoking or drinking. “Some of these factors are likely to be even more shared after children,” says Adrian Liston, the senior author and a professor at University of Leuven in Belgium. “For example, children are likely to increase the exchange of gut bacteria by reducing the sterility of the household (to put it nicely).” Read more…

Chemical in antibacterial soap may disrupt mix of organisms in digestive tract

Use of a common nonprescription antimicrobial, triclocarban, during pregnancy and breast-feeding may alter the offspring’s composition of intestinal bacteria and other micro-organisms, called the gut microbiota, a new animal study finds. Read more…

Psychobiotics Will Use Bacteria to Alter Your Brain Through Your Gut

Bacteria don’t outnumber our own cells 10 to one, as the old myth went, but we do contain trillions of microroganisms. That these organisms influences us as much — if not more — as we influence them is a powerful idea, explored in fecal transplant therapies and microbiome sequencing. It’s also one that some researchers want to take advantage of, psychologically speaking. They’re looking for psychobiotics — bacteria that form a connection between our guts and our brains. Read more…

Gut Microbes Can Evolve From Foe to Friend—And Do It Fast

Dangerous microbes can evolve rapidly. When we throw antibiotics at them, new strains can quickly shrug off the drugs and cause untreatable cases of tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, or staph. But most microbes don’t cause disease. Many share our bodies and those of other animals, and these residents—our so-called microbiome—are important parts of our lives. Read more…

Could Your Workout Impact Your Gut Health? Yes—And Here’s Why

One, published last week in the journal PLOS One, compared two sets of young mice: those that exercised and those that didn’t. Some of the rodents ate a high-fat diet, others, low fat. Over the course of 12 weeks, the rodents that ran on a wheel, regardless of diet type, experienced an increase in several helpful bacteria—some by as much as 40 percent. The study’s lead author, Sara Campbell, Ph.D., at the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at Rutgers University, points out that she found exercise to be extremely effective at raising levels of butyrate, the bacteria that helps protect against colon cancer. “Exercise might also help you feel less bloated,” she says. Read more…

Our gut microbiome is always changing; it’s also remarkably stable

Turnover is to be expected in the gut — as soon as one bacterium leaves, another is ready to divide and take its place. The question is how our gut remains healthy under this constantly enacted succession plan. A growing body of research indicates that different species of microbes fulfill the same functions in the gut, ensuring stability in the face of constant disturbance. Read more…

Scientists Unveil New ‘Tree of Life’

A team of scientists unveiled a new tree of life on Monday, a diagram outlining the evolution of all living things. The researchers found that bacteria make up most of life’s branches. And they found that much of that diversity has been waiting in plain sight to be discovered, dwelling in river mud and meadow soils. Read more…

Paleopoo: What We Can Learn from Fossilized Feces

Ancient dietary practices based on analyzing the fiber content of fossilized human waste can give us insights for combating the modern obesity epidemic. Read more…

Protein from bacteria alleviates food allergy symptoms

While the number of food allergies cases continues to grow, few treatment options exist. Dr. Yang stressed, “Our study is the first to discover the probiotic strain’s mechanism of controlling food allergies without affecting regulatory T cells” and added, “since mast cells are the root cause of all allergic reactions, recombinant ESBP protein might be used therapeutic treatment of other allergic diseases as well as food allergy.” There are other possible applications for ESBP including in skin cream to treat eczema. This protein treatment looks like a significant step in mitigating an overactive immune response which will go a long way in combating allergies. Read more…

GI tract bacteria help decrease stroke

Certain types of bacteria in the gut can leverage the immune system to decrease the severity of stroke, according to new research. This finding can help mitigate stroke — which is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Read more…

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