Blaming both genes and gut microbes for obesity

The relationship between gut microbes and human health is a hot research topic in the scientific community. Considering the number of gut microbes in one’s gut out numbers the total number of the human cells in one’s body by 10 to 1, it only makes sense that whatever the problems we might have, our gut microbes got to have something to do with it. A lot of the research seems to back this up.

Extensive research shows that bad gut microbes can cause obesity. In an article published in the journal Cell, a group of international researchers suggest that our genes influences whether we are fat or thin by shaping which types of microbes thrive in our gut.

In the study, funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH), the researchers sequenced the genes of microbes found in more than 1,000 fecal samples from 416 pairs of twins. The abundances of specific types of microbes were found to be more similar in identical twins, who share 100 per cent of their genes, than in non-identical twins, who share on average only half of the genes that vary between people. These findings demonstrate that genes influence the composition of gut microbes.

In addition, the researchers reported that host genetics have the most influence on a type of health-promoting bacterial family, which is more abundant in individuals with a low body weight than in obese individuals.  When the researchers treated mice with this microbe, the treated mice gained less weight than untreated mice, suggesting that increasing the amounts of this microbe may help to prevent or reduce obesity.

Up until now, variation in the abundances of gut microbes has been explained by diet such as the consumption of insoluble fibers versus highly processed food, the environment, lifestyle such as exercising, medical conditions such as antibiotics use and even health. This is the first study establishing that certain types of gut microbes are heritable — that their variation across a population is in part due to host gene variation, not just environmental influences.  Therefore, nature does work together with nurture to decide what and how we are.

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: Julia K. Goodrich, Jillian L. Waters, Angela C. Poole, Jessica L. Sutter, Omry Koren, Ran Blekhman, Michelle Beaumont, William Van Treuren, Rob Knight, Jordana T. Bell, Timothy D. Spector, Andrew G. Clark, Ruth E. Ley. Human Genetics Shape the Gut Microbiome. Cell, 2014; 159 (4): 789 DOI:10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.053

Source: Informed Nutrition

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