DEC 04, 2015 12:53 PM PST

How the Immune System Impacts Gut Microbiota Evolution

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
In a novel study demonstrating the influence of the immune system on gut bacteria evolution, scientists from the Insitito Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC) in Portugal have made a solid case for the use of personalized medicine for immunocompromised patients with intestinal problems.

Our gut bacteria, also called "good bacteria" and the "human microbiome," help the body with digestion in many ways. As we ingest different things, our gut bacteria adapt and evolve to "efficiently cope with different stimuli." In addition, our immune system constantly keeps track of the bacterial diversity to prevent disease due to a disruption of gut homeostasis. Scientists noticed that immunocompromised people experience a change in gut bacteria composition and saw that as a consequence, the gut bacteria adapt differently than in immunocompetent people. 

The team from IGC used mice models to investigate exactly how healthy mice versus mice without immune cells adapt to their diet. They used Escherichia coli (E. coli), one of the very first microbes to colonize the intestine at birth (also a common cause of food poisoning) to observe the differences in gut bacteria evolution between the two groups of mice. 

As expected, the mice with no immune defense were slower in their metabolic adaption to their diet, while healthy mice adapted normally. Their findings were published this week in Nature Communications

"We observed that this feature is due to changes in the composition of the community of bacteria in the intestine, which is more similar across individuals with a healthy immune system, and is quite diverse in animals with an immune compromised system," explained Joao Batista, PhD student and first author of the study.

Since the immune system is so closely tied to gut microbiota composition and evolution, the IGC scientists concluded that general therapies for treating intestinal diseases are not effective for people with compromised immune systems. Rather personalized therapies, developed on a case-to-case basis, should be used to treat for conditions arising as a cause of an impaired immune system. People will need a unique concoction of medicine specifically tuned to their specific gut bacteria composition. 

Watch the following video to learn more about irritable bowel disease, a common intestinal disease resulting from a disruption of the gut microbiota composition.

Source: Insitito Gulbenkian de Cienca, Portugal
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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