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
JUL 11, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 11, 2018
New Insight Into Bacterial Pathogenicity
Scientists have learned how some pathogenic bacteria stick to cells in the intestine, which gets their infection started....
JUL 24, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 24, 2018
Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Raw Turkey Products
Researchers at the CDC are trying to learn more about a rash of Salmonella infections....
AUG 02, 2018
Immunology
AUG 02, 2018
Chronic Infections Outsmart the Immune System
Chronic parasitic infection shown to take advantage of a mechanism to sustain infection and induce death of white blood cells essential to immune response....
AUG 13, 2018
Immunology
AUG 13, 2018
Silent Viruses Impact Microbe and Immune Cell Populations
Subclinical infections may alter the immune system and gut microbiota in the human host impacting how we respond to environmental stimuli like vaccines....
AUG 26, 2018
Videos
AUG 26, 2018
All About Extremophiles
Our planet hosts some very special microbes that live in some crazy places; they are called extremophiles....
OCT 20, 2018
Microbiology
OCT 20, 2018
A Killer Combo: Probiotics and Antibiotics
Researchers developed a way to protect probiotics from the effects of antmicrobial drugs....
Loading Comments...