The future of science could be in your gut. Here’s why

UNU Science 2018

(Photo used by United Nations University, 2017) Wikimedia: George Joch, Argonne National Laboratory.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jessica Richman, Chief Executive Officer, uBiome

The human microbiome has been the topic of thousands of research studies in the past two decades. Rapid developments in laboratory techniques and bioinformatics have brought down the cost of DNA sequencing while enabling the high-throughput analysis of thousands of samples. These developments have made it possible for researchers to study the microbial species present in a sample without having to first grow them in the laboratory.

These studies have created a wealth of knowledge on the microbes present in our gut and other body sites, and the functions they fulfill in our health. Gut microbes help us digest our food, make vitamins and other molecules that we need, support our immune systems, and help prevent infection with pathogens (microbes that can make us sick).

Fibers and starches in our diet cannot be broken down by our own enzymes, and we need to rely on our microbes to break these down. They turn these fibers into small molecules that we then can absorb. One of these molecules is butyrate, which serves as fuel for our intestinal cells, but is also taken up in our blood and is believed to have beneficial effects in other parts of our body. This influence of the gut on other organs might even reach as far as our brain, the so-called gut brain axis. Our gut is intricately connected to our brain by many nerves that end in the gut, and expressions such as “a gut feeling” and “sick to my stomach” are familiar to us. Eating lots of fiber therefore feeds our microbiome and helps the gut microbiome help its host – our body – in return.

Research has given valuable insight into the composition and function of the gut microbiome of healthy people. We’ve also learned that the gut microbiome composition in people with diseases such as diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is different from that of healthy people.

Whether we are healthy or sick, we all have our own unique microbial rainforest inside of us. What determines the composition of our gut microbiome is partially determined by our own genes, and partially by our diet, lifestyle, and health. In healthy persons who eat a regular diet, the composition of the gut microbiome does not change a lot from day to day or even from month to month. But the gut microbiome can change if we make a big change in our diet (e.g. eating more fiber, becoming vegan), or if we go on an international trip, take antibiotics or other drugs, or become sick.

The uniqueness of our microbiome can have unexpected consequences. Each species in our gut has its own unique set of genes and properties. Depending on the microbial species we harbour in our gut, individual persons vary in their ability to break down fiber, or to generate butyrate and neurotransmitters such as serotonin. For example, people whose gut microbiome does not contain Oxalobacter formigenes, a bacterium that can break down oxalate in our food, have an increased risk for kidney stones. Other microbes have been found to synthesize vitamin B and K, so our dietary needs might vary depending on which microbes live in our gut.

The composition of our gut microbiome can also determine if certain drugs work or not. An immunotherapy drug called anti-PD1, which is used to treat melanoma, has been shown to work better in some people than in others. This difference appears to be associated with the composition of a patient’s gut microbiome. Digoxin, a heart disease drug, can be inactivated by certain Eggerthella strains, making it less effective in patients who harbour such strains in their gut. The widely used painkiller acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be extremely toxic for certain individuals, depending on the species present in their gastrointestinal system.

As more and more diseases and individual drug responses are linked to the composition of our gut microbiome, stool sample analysis at the doctor’s office is likely to play an increasing role in human healthcare. Such tests will greatly help clinicians to follow their patients’ health, and to better predict which treatment or drug would work best for an individual patient.

Citizen scientists can help us extend our knowledge of human microbiomes worldwide. Human microbiomes are very different in every apart of the world, and microbiome analysis has until recently mainly focused on European and North American subjects. With the aid of citizen science we can extend our knowledge of a much more global population, and thus better help understand specific problems that affect non-Western communities in greater proportion, such as malnutrition and diarrhea.

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Appalling overall unemployment in Eurozone at 20.6%

UN condemns deadly attack on Burkina Faso church

Iran-US attack in Iraq: Guterres pledges ‘active engagement’ in further de-escalation efforts

Peace operations benefit from improved cooperation between the UN and troop-providing countries, says peacekeeping chief

Here’s how we make the internet safer for children

A 3-step path to securing critical infrastructure

EU-Turkey leaders’ meeting, 9 March 2020

Davos on Climate Change: citizens demanding more actions while CEOs tried to balance profit with sustainability

4 key steps towards a circular economy

Central American migrants must be protected, urge UN experts

New skills needed for medical students in Industry 4.0

Sudan military committed to ‘ensuring stability’ and ‘peaceful transition’ says senior diplomat, as UN rights chief appeals for protesters’ rights to be upheld

Thousands returning to Nigeria’s restive Borno state ‘at risk’; UN ‘gravely concerned’

GSMA announces first speakers for Mobile 360 Series-Middle East and North Africa

AI-powered automation will have an ethnic bias

From farms to supermarkets: MEPs approve new EU rules against unfair trading

Parliament approves €500 million for schooling of refugee children in Turkey

Romanian Presidency priorities discussed in committees

Reading the smoke signals: The long-term consequences of Amazon wildfire on global health

Global hunger is on the rise. These simple steps could help eradicate it

$1.4 billion needed this year to fund UN’s agency for Palestine refugees

Threat from petty criminals who turn to terrorism, a growing concern, Security Council hears

Gender parity can boost economic growth. Here’s how

Suicide Prevention: Using Graduation as a Transformative Tool

G20 starts to tackle inequality

COVID-19: MEPs debate how to best protect cross-border and seasonal workers

Universal basic income is the answer to the inequalities exposed by COVID-19

At Davos, UN chief urges ‘big emitters’ to take climate action

Rising inequality affecting more than two-thirds of the globe, but it’s not inevitable: new UN report

Third Facebook-Cambridge Analytica hearing: data breach prevention and cures

These social entrepreneurs are lighting up Africa

European Youth Forum welcomes the European Commission’s proposed revision of the Union Code on Visas, however it does not go far enough

Coronavirus: Commission boosts urgently needed research and innovation with additional €122 million

Easing fears and promoting gender equality in Chad’s girls-only classrooms

European Semester Autumn Package: Creating an economy that works for people and the planet

A UN-backed boost for women-run businesses in the developing world

FROM THE FIELD: Green shoots of peace in South Sudan

Reinforcing EU border security: Visa-exempt travelers will be pre-screened

This is what Belgium’s traffic-choked capital is doing about emissions

EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey: €6 billion to support refugees and local communities in need fully mobilised

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: #NoTobacco Day, China’s economy, family farming, #ClimateAction

What if Trump wins the November election and Renzi loses the December referendum?

When did globalization begin? The answer might surprise you

Rising number of young people excluded from jobs, education and training

The AI doctor won’t see you now

How digital can transform healthcare in Asia for millions of people

How Finland is fighting fake news – in the classroom

How to change the world at Davos

Freshwater is saltier – and it’s bad for the planet and our health

On International Youth Day the European Youth Forum calls for true youth participation

This ‘hidden killer’ is responsible for one in five deaths, and you might never have heard of it

Four ways Artificial Intelligence can make healthcare more efficient and affordable

Energy: EU priority projects should be aligned with 2050 climate objectives

Combatting antisemitism requires ‘solidarity in the face of hatred’, says UN chief

We need to talk about integration after migration. Here are four ways we can improve it

Secretary-General upholds value of UN Charter for a world in turmoil

How revealing the cost of coal makes us all better off

MWC 2016 LIVE: Under Armour learns from “robust community of data”

What is adversarial artificial intelligence and why does it matter?

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s