“How the gut determines our lives”, is the slogan the German news magazine “Focus” once more relies on to summarise current research and observations on the importance of the gut microbiome. “For a long time, researchers assumed that microbes merely handle digestion”, the advance notice to the edition “Follow your gut feeling” says. Today, however, we may be certain: bacteria are able to do much more. Researchers are convinced that there are many ways in which bacteria on and in our bodies and their interactions affect our health.
Among others, the magazine refers to results of research conducted by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. In 2011, scientists working at the institute had found that humans can be divided into three different gut types based on the prevalence of specific species of bacteria in the gut. “A more precise analysis of the bacteria’s DNA also established biomarkers connected to age, gender, or body-mass-index. This could enable an earlier diagnosis and a more precise therapy of diseases”, the information platform www.biotechnologie.de reported.
For their research, the scientists in Heidelberg used stool samples from all over the world. They analysed the DNA of all bacteria and determined their respective frequency of occurrence. The result were three distinct groups. In each of these “enterotypes”, some species of bacteria dominated, whereas others were only present in the gut in small quantities.
What’s interesting is that within each group, gut flora changes. In bacterial DNA from the guts of older people, the scientists found more microbial genes involved in breaking down carbohydrates than in those of the younger age group. This might indicate that we become less efficient at processing nutrients as we age, and that bacteria take up the task. Should this prove to be the case, frequency and composition of bacteria could be eventually used to establish markers for traits like obesity or diseases. Ideally, doctors could look for clues in someone’s gut bacteria when diagnosing early colorectal cancer or other diseases and adapt treatment specifically to the patient’s individual gut type.