The bacteria and other microbes living inside us will soon get a much closer look, with the White House announcing a major new initiative today that promises to speed up our understanding of how the trillions of microorganisms play a role in diseases, such as cancer.
The National Microbiome Initiative is a collaboration of government and private industry and it has a broad aim to understand the microorganism communities on Earth and beyond. These communities include bacteria, viruses and fungi. As part of the Initiative the government pledged to support more than $121 million over the next couple years to research. That includes everything from investigating microbes’ role in land, sea, and space. It also involves looking at microbes in animals, including us humans.
A lot of the microbiome research already involves human health. Largely ignored until recently, scientists now know that our skin, mouth, gut and almost every part of our body is teeming with microbes that we depend upon for good health. Whether these microbes outnumber human cells ten to one or they’re about even, we know there are trillions of them. And that they are important. Continue reading
A growing body of evidence indicates that the trillions of bacteria that live in the digestive tract – might play a role in altering cancer risk. Now, a study suggests that how those bacteria are organized and where they are located in the gut might influence the risk of certain colon cancers.
The study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, focused on biofilms – communities of bacteria that help bacteria communicate with each other and grow more efficiently.
When bacteria organize into biofilms, they can breach the protective inner layer in the gut and invade the local tissue, promoting inflammation and possibly cancer.
We have an interesting relationship with the bacteria in our gut. Although many of the microbes provide beneficial services, bacteria – both “good” and “bad” – can cause us harm, so we keep them all at arm’s length, so to speak. Normal, healthy tissue in the colon is coated with a two-layered covering of mucus –a mesh-like outer layer and a gel-like inner layer. Whereas the outer layer creates a moist, cozy environment for bacteria, the inner layer is less hospitable: it provides the last line of defense against their invasion.
We each are living with millions of bacteria teeming in our gut that help us metabolize food and stay healthy.
Now a new study suggests that shifting to a fiber-filled healthy diet with fruits and vegetables may increase the bacteria species in our gut and that in turn, may improve metabolic abnormalities linked to obesity.
Published in Nature yesterday, the study works in tandem with another in the same issue that suggests having a diverse array of bacteria makes a difference to our health. People with less bacteria diversity had more insulin resistance and inflammation, which are risk factors for cancer. They also were also more likely to gain weight.
In the diet study, researchers looked at the microbial diversity among 45 people who were overweight or obese. The scientists analyzed the number of bacteria genes, dividing the group into those who had low or high bacterial diversity: 40 percent had low; 60 percent high. To start with, the people with less bacterial diversity had higher insulin resistance, triglycerides, and inflammation. Continue reading