JAN 16, 2018 07:16 AM PST

Bacteria can Regulate Our Genes

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

As we learn more about the microbes that populate our gastrointestinal tract, we find that they exert a powerful influence on our health, but all the mechanisms underlying that influence are not known. Now, an international team led by scientists at the Babraham Institute have found that the bacteria living in our guts release a chemical signal that affects our genes, as they help us digest vegetables and fruits. The alterations in our genome may help protect against cancer, and aid us in the fight against infections. The findings have been reported in Nature Communications

Gut microbes like E. coli have a big impact on our health. / Image credit: United States Department of Agriculture

Tags added to our genes, called epigenetic markers, can impact how genes are expressed. One such recently discovered epigenetic tag is called crotonylation. The researchers determined that as fruits and vegetables are digested, molecules called short-chain fatty acids are released. They can migrate from the microbes and into our cells. Within our cells, they increase crotonylation by halting the action of a protein called HDAC2. The investigators have suggested that crotonylation can activate or inactivate gene expression.

"Short-chain fatty acids are a key energy source for cells in the gut, but we've also shown they affect crotonylation of the genome. Crotonylation is found in many cells, but it's particularly common in the gut. Our study reveals why this is the case by identifying a new role for HDAC2. This, in turn, has been implicated in cancer and offers an interesting new drug target to be studied further,” explained the first author of the report, Rachel Fellows. 

The lining of a mouse large intestine, DNA is in red while crotonylation is highlighted in green. Yellow indicates DNA and crotonylation together. / Image credit: Dr Juri Kazakevych, Babraham Institute  

For this work, the team utilized mice that had few bacteria living in their gut to show that the cells in these mice contained more HDAC2 than mice normally would. Other work has indicated that increases in HDAC2 is linked to an increase in the risk of colorectal cancer. Crotonylation may, therefore, have an important role in preventing cancer. The importance of maintaining a healthy diet is also highlighted by this research. 

"Our intestine is the home of countless bacteria that help in the digestion of foods such as plant fibers. They also act as a barrier to harmful bacteria and educate our immune system. How these bugs affect our cells is a key part of these processes,” said the leader of the work,  Dr. Patrick Varga-Weisz. “Our work illuminates how short-chain fatty acids contribute to the regulation of proteins that package the genome and, thus, they affect gene activity."

Learn more about how bacteria influence our health, and make us who we are from the video, featuring a Ted talk by Rob Knight.


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via Babraham Institute, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 22, 2018
Videos
SEP 22, 2018
Did a Vampire Facial Expose Patients to Bloodborne Disease?
It seems there is no shortage of unusual beauty rituals; vampire facials may fall into that category....
SEP 27, 2018
Microbiology
SEP 27, 2018
How Bacterial Cells Take out the Trash
Some types of bacteria create tiny versions of themselves that cannot reproduce - miniature spheres lacking chromosomal DNA that are known as minicells....
OCT 02, 2018
Videos
OCT 02, 2018
Learning how Bacterial Chemicals Impact Human Health
We play host to a huge number of microbes, and all the chemicals that they produce....
OCT 28, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 28, 2018
Using Genetics to Learn how Similar Species are Different
Millions of fungal species live all around us; some are a mystery while others have an important role in our world....
NOV 03, 2018
Microbiology
NOV 03, 2018
Potential new Tuberculosis Treatment Found in Dirt
The pathogen that causes TB has been able to evolve, and often, the typical therapeutic for the illness does not work....
NOV 26, 2018
Health & Medicine
NOV 26, 2018
The Role of Clinical Lab Scientists
The clinical laboratory is the heart of any hospital or healthcare system. It is responsible for greater than 70% of medical diagnoses and decisions made b...
Loading Comments...