human intestinal flora
July 7, 2014

Discovery Of New Gut Microbes Could Lead To Improved Obesity, Diabetes Treatments

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have discovered 500 previously unidentified microorganisms in human intestinal flora, as well as 800 new types of viruses that attack intestinal bacteria.

In addition, DTU Systems Biology professor Søren Brunak, associate professor Henrik Bjørn Nielsen and their colleagues devised a new principle for analyzing DNA sequence data in order to map the newly discovered microorganisms, the university explained in a statement Sunday.

This concept, known as the co-abundance principle, assumes that various pieces of DNA from the same organism will occur in the same amount in a sample, and that the amount will vary over a series of samples. Thus far, between 200 and 300 intestinal bacteria sample have been mapped, but that number is expected to double thanks to the new technique, potentially leading to new treatments for obesity, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases.

“Using our method, researchers are now able to identify and collect genomes from previously unknown microorganisms in even highly complex microbial societies. This provides us with an overview we have not enjoyed previously,” explained Brunak.

He and Nielsen have also worked on the relationship between bacteria and viruses, and according to Nielsen, their research revealed which bacterial viruses (also known as bacteriophages) will attack bacteria. This could have an observable impact on whether or not the attacked bacteria can survive in the intestinal system over the long term.

The study is scheduled for publication in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

“Our study tells us which bacterial viruses attack which bacteria, something which has a noticeable effect on whether the attacked bacteria will survive in the intestinal system in the long term,” said Nielsen.

Researchers have typically looked individually at bacteria when conducting laboratory analysis, but more and more they are focusing on how microbes interact with one another – an important factor that will allow them to better understand the intestinal flora.

Once they learn more about how these gut bacteria interact, scientists could eventually help develop improved treatment methods for a variety of different adverse health conditions. As Brunak explained, they could add or remove specific types of microbes in order to improve the overall health of the intestinal flora.

One key application for this work could be the increasing threat of antimicrobial resistance. A World Health Organization (WHO) paper issued in April reported that antibiotic resistance is on the rise in every region of the world, and could pose a health hazard to pretty much anybody living anywhere on Earth.

“We have previously been experimenting with using bacteria and viruses to fight disease, but this was shelved because antimicrobial agents have been so effective in combating many infectious diseases,” said Nielsen.

“If we can learn more about who attacks who, then bacterial viruses could be a viable alternative to antimicrobial agents,” he added. “It is therefore extremely important that we now can identify and describe far more relations between bacteria and the viruses that attack them.”


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