Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Legion of Little Helpers in the Gut Keeps Us Alive

More articles on the bacteria in our guts. Man I am just eating this stuff up (sorry, couldn't resist). Why is this important? I think this sums it up.

A better understanding of the bacteria colonizing our bodies could have far-reaching medical implications. In the not-too-distant future, Gill and others predicted, doctors will test for subtle changes in the numbers and kinds of microbes in people's guts as early indicators of disease. Doctors may prescribe live bacterial supplements to bring certain physiological measures back into normal range. And drug companies will invent compounds that mimic or amplify the actions of helpful bacteria.

With the technology improving and getting cheaper, she said, it won't be long before it is easy to monitor a person's microbial changes from day to day -- or compare bacterial population structures among individuals who have different diets or health histories.
These little critters perform all sorts of functions.
The bacteria also contain a plentiful supply of genes involved in the synthesis of chemicals essential to human life—including two B vitamins and certain essential amino acids—although the team merely showed that these metabolic pathways exist rather than proving that they are used. Nevertheless, the pathways they found leave humans looking more like ruminants: animals such as goats and sheep that use bacteria to break down otherwise indigestible matter in the plants they eat.
I was also curious how babies get their bacteria to begin with.
Another area of research is the process by which these helpful bacteria first colonise the digestive tract. Babies acquire their gut flora as they pass down the birth canal and take a gene-filled gulp of their mother's vaginal and faecal flora. It might not be the most delicious of first meals, but it could well be an important one.
Ahh, maybe I didn't want to know that after all.

This article also features my new favorite euphemism.
The team used tiny molecular probes resembling DNA Velcro to retrieve tens of thousands of snippets of bacterial DNA from smidgeons of the intestinal output of two volunteers.
Holy intestinal output, Batman!

via The Economist and The Washington Post

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