4 January 2016

A cure for obesity?

The past two years have seen a boom in scientific publications about our gut microbiota and most importantly their impact on our health. It seems that despite our own collection of genes being able to adapt to short-term situations, our collection of microbes have just taken it a little bit further, including helping us out digesting our food.

Throughout our life, we are hosting different bacteria depending on our age, environment, and diet. Where we live and where we are from also has an influence on their diversity.

What we are now learning is that hosting the right species at the right time has an influence on how our body will behave and convert our food.

Many experiments have shown that certain classes of bacteria are just better at extracting calories from food than others. Some then influence how those calories are used: into immediate energy, or energy to be stored as fat.

Where we live and where we are from have an influence on our microbiota diversity.
Where we live and where we are from have an influence on our microbiota diversity - Do you want to tweet this?

Two of the most abundant classes of bacteria are called Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. They only exist in our gut, and conveniently for researchers, in mice's guts:

There is a species of mouse that has a faulty leptin gene (the satiety hormone). As a consequence, those mice keep being very hungry, eat constantly, and become obese.
If you compare the gut microbes of these obese mice, they have more Firmicutes and less Bacteriodetes than normal lean mice who have more Bacteriodetes and less Firmicutes.

Interestingly, if you transfer the gut microbes from an obese mouse into a special, lean, and germ-free mouse, the latter becomes obese.*
Gut microbiota transfer from an obese mouse to a lean germ-free mouse makes the lean mouse obese - Do you want to tweet this?

Now, I know what you would like to know, and I would like to know it too:
  • Does the opposite experiment work i.e. would transferring lean mice microbiota into obese mice make obese mice lean?
  • Would it work in humans too?
Don't cancel your gym membership just yet though, I think for now it's too early to say, but rest assured there are avenues being explored...

If you could know the composition of your microbiota, what would you like to know?

If you'd like to share your thoughts, please feel free to leave me a comment, I'd love to read it.

* The amazing discoveries I shared were reported in Turnbaugh PJ, et al. 2008.

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