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Is our gut flora determined randomly?

Important Points:

  • Gut
  • Bacteria
  • Environmental conditions

Is our gut flora determined randomly?

With our growing understanding of the gut-brain axis, the relationship of intestinal flora and of our control center has been slowly revealing itself to be complex.

We now know that gut bacteria can influence our behavior and even determine what our disease risk.  But despite these understandings, we are still learning what factors account for the individual differences humans have in terms of behavior and medical conditions.

Fortunately, the mystery of heterogeneity, the difference between individuals, can now be explained with a study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In their study, researchers set out to answer the question on why despite having the same diet and environmental exposure, humans still experience drastic differences within the species in terms of gut flora.

As it turns out, the answer is as random as the word random itself; the reason behind it is simply put, chance. In the study, the researchers used genetically identical worms fed the same diet and kept in the same environmental condition. However, despite strict controls, the worms developed distinct and different populations of bacteria in their gut. As it turns out, the population growth is determined by which bacteria is able to colonize the gut first and that the type of gut flora that grows depends on chance.

The researchers on the study were able to confirm this by ingeniously giving the worms marked with two fluorescent proteins of different colors. One red and the other green. Those who had been colonized first by the green marked bacteria developed a green gut population and those with red also developed that specific red population.

This confirms the theory that despite having generally similar diets and environmental exposure, the factor of chance plays a bigger role than we first thought.

Stochastic assembly produces heterogeneous communities in the Caenorhabditis elegans intestine

http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.2000633

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Can studying gut microbiomes help brain disorders and mood disorders?

Important Points:

  • Brain
  • Gut
  • Fecal matter
  • Microbes

Can studying gut microbiomes help brain disorders and mood disorders?

The relationship between the gut and the brain has now been scientifically proven to be a valid and working one. The Gut-Brain axis does exist, and it does affect our daily lives more than we know.  In a controversial claim, the bacteria found in our guts may influence the way the brain works and therefore affect our moods.

The claim is based on a study in which a germ-free sterile mice, never exposed to bacteria, were found to be releasing twice the stress hormone when stimulated compared to normal mice. This inspired the theory that there is such a thing as psychobiotics or a group of microbes capable of exerting influence over the moods of people.

How is it possible that microorganisms from the gut can work its magic all the way to the brain? One theory suggests it does this through the stimulation of the Vagus nerve.  The Vagus nerve acts as a sort of information superhighway between the brain and the gut.  Another theory is related to how gut microbiomes breakdown food into chemicals that affect the whole body or even how tiny DNAs from the microorganism alter nerve function.

Scientists even discovered that transferring fecal matter between people not only rebalances gut microbiomes but also transfers behavior. In depressed patients who underwent a fecal transplant, their symptoms of anhedonia, or the lack of pleasure from things, virtually vanished after the procedure.

Another potential application of the study of gut microbiome is in the field of treating the brain disorder Parkinson’s disease. When fecal matter from Parkinson patients was placed inside the gut of mice, their brain symptoms became much worse.

With these pieces of evidence, researchers are hopeful that the future of medicine will rely heavily upon studies in the realm of gut-brain axis.