Our bodies play host to myriad microorganisms; many of those microbes live in our gastrointestinal tract and they play a highly influential role in our health. Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) that study gut microbes have identified a yeast that acts as a predictor of asthma development in childhood. There is a summary of the findings, which were presented at the 2017 meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science, in the following video.
"Children with this type of yeast called Pichia were much more at risk of asthma," explained Brett Finlay, a microbiologist at UBC. "This is the first time anyone has shown any kind of association between yeast and asthma."
Finlay and his team have previously found four gut bacteria that seemed to prevent later asthma development if the bacteria were present in babies during the first hundred days of their lives. That Canadian study was then repeated in this work, with samples and health studies of children in a rural community in Ecuador. Those two countries have high asthma rates; roughly ten percent of the population is burdened with the disease.
The gut bacteria that had been identified in Canadian kids did play an asthma prevention role in Ecuadorian kids. However, the researcher found that a yeast or minuscule fungus called Pichia was a bigger factor in asthma prevention, and that yeast was actually having the opposite effect. It was increasing the risk of asthma development.
The researchers also looked at how water quality was playing a role. The results were counterintuituve. “Those that had access to good, clean water had much higher asthma rates and we think it is because they were deprived of the beneficial microbes,” reveled Finlay. “That was a surprise because we tend to think that clean is good but we realize that we actually need some dirt in the world to help protect you.”
The researchers now plan to go back to the Canadian samples to look for the Pichia yeast.
If you are interested in the first part of the work that studied how gut bacteria were influencing asthma prevention, check out the video above that explains the findings, which were published in Science Translational Medicine. That research involved 319 children; there were low levels of four gut bacteria in kids that were at higher risk of asthma. The four bacteria, called FLVR for Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, Veillonella, Rothia, are usually present in the environment and acquired naturally, but some kids miss out for a variety of reasons.
This work adds to the growing body of evidence that the community of microbes in our gut, the microbiome, is a major driver of human health and disease.