MAY 15, 2016 2:33 PM PDT

HuMiX: a pocket-sized model of the gut microbiome

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Evans
Researchers developed a model to study “Human Microbial Cross-talk”. HuMiX, for short, is a patented apparatus that mimics the real-world conditions of the human gut.

According to study author Paul Wilmes, “with HuMiX, we can observe interactions of bacteria in real-time as they communicate with human intestinal cells”. It has been difficult to study such interactions because it is so difficult to replicate the gut environment in the lab. One benefit of HuMiX is that it allows researchers to cultivate anaerobic bacteria - these guys can be tough to grow, but the majority of our gut bacteria are anaerobes.
 
HuMiX mimics the conditions of the human gut.

The HuMiX apparatus is about the size of a coaster. (It’ll fit right in your pocket!) It is made up of three chambers - the top chamber contains growth media that flows to intestinal and bacterial cell cultures in the lower chambers. The human intestinal cells grow on a membrane in the middle chamber, and bacteria grow in the bottom chamber.  

The group had to validate that HuMiX truly replicated the gut environment, however. To do this, they assessed gene expression and metabolism in human intestinal cells growing in the apparatus. They also determined how these processes changed in response to various strains of bacteria (that’s the human microbial cross-talk part).

In one experiment, they grew intestinal cells in the presence of a species of Lactobacillus - Lactobacillus rhamnosus. The presence of these bacteria induced the intestinal cells to produce a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). These results were similar to data obtained previously in mice, thus helping to validate their new gut model.

The team has big plans for HuMiX. They plan to study a number of things including how probiotics and dietary supplements affect the physiology of the gut. According to Wilmes, “there are clues, for example, that inflammatory processes can play a role in the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's. In HuMiX, we can introduce distinct bacterial species or whole communities into the artificial gut model whether these organisms trigger or slow down inflammation, or even introduce immune cells and neurons together with the bacteria.”
 

Sources: Nature Communications, Science Daily
 
About the Author
  • Kerry received a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
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