According to a story from bioengineer.org, a team of researchers associated with Oregon State University are making further headway in understanding the connection between our health and the bacteria that live in our digestive systems. The goal of this latest study was to attempt to determine what role different kinds of bacteria are playing. The team synthesized findings from eight separate studies in a metagenomic meta-analysis.
The Gut Microbiome and Disease
These prior studies investigated the relationship between the gut microbiome and seven different diseases. Metagenomics simply means that the gene samples were collected from a natural environment instead of being cultured in the laboratory setting. In this instance, the team was looking at human stool samples. The diseases involved included ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer, cirrhosis, Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The activity of the microbiome can both contribute to our well being and benefit and, when things get out of balance, the development of various diseases. There are over 1,000 species of bacteria that populate the human digestive system. A target of the study was the measure of protein family richness, dispersion, and composition.
The researchers found that patients with illnesses such as diabetes or ulcerative colitis tended to have a smaller number of protein families when measured against controls. Meanwhile, colorectal cancer patients tended to have an abnormally large amount of protein families.
The team also looked at the variations in the composition of the microbiome, which is also known as beta dispersion. Prior studies have suggested that increased beta dispersion was associated with disease. Increased dispersion was found in several diseases, such as cirrhosis and Crohn’s disease; however, obesity was correlated with reduced dispersion. The variations in findings indicate that the characteristics of the gut microbiome can vary between each individual condition, but the scientists were more surprised by how much overlap there was between them.
The discoveries made in this study are a clear and much needed sign of progress; however, it is undeniable that more research—and therefore, more data—is necessary.
The original study, published in the journal mSystems, can be found here.