The "gut microbiome" refers to the trillions of bacteria that colonize our intestines. The normal metabolic functions of these bacteria play an infinite role in human digestion, disease etiology, and other actions that have countless impacts on human health. The diversity of the bacteria in the human microbiome is incredibly vast, and the study of these gut flora has been one of recent interest and growth in the field of microbiology (Nature). Incredibly, there are more bacterial cells in our bodies than human cells.
Escherichia coli is a well-known bacteria common in cases of food-poisoning, but it is also a normal contributor to the gut microbiota. Under normal conditions, the body regulates the amount of different bacteria colonies that thrive in the gut. Under a proper balance, E. coli can live in our intestines without causing disease. A recent study at the University of Zurich described what happens when the microbiota equilibrium is disturbed. Although sometimes unexplained, damage to the intestines can cause certain bacterial groups, like E. coli, to grow to larger numbers than usual and cause infection-related inflammation in the gut. Misuse of antibiotics is often a known cause of these type of intestinal infections. When normal, harmless gut microbiota is killed after an unnecessary or overboard dose of antibiotics, bacteria like E. coli are left without bacterial neighbors competing for space and nutrients. Then, E. coli colonies grow to even larger numbers and cause disease.
The researchers from Zurich found that "overproduction of E. coli can be attributed to the availability of the carbohydrate sialic acid." Surprisingly, E. coli doesn't make the enzyme needed to utilize sialic acid, sialidase. The bacteria find sialidase to use when its produced by other intestinal bacteria.
It turns out that treatments developed to combat flu infections contain a sialidase inhibitor. So patients with a microbiota imbalance will less often suffer from E. coli infections when they're already being treated with a flu remedy, like Tamiflu. The researchers are excited about the "new therapeutic possibilities" that could be derived from the components of flu medicines. New treatments for inflammatory intestinal diseases could be developing very soon.
In the video below, listen and watch NPR explain further the relationship between a human and his/her microbiome.
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