Gut Instinct: Brains on Bacteria

Man meditating holding phone with digestive system and brain shown as connected.
(Image:  https://atlasbiomed.com)

Background

You are what you eat, or so many people have been told. Researchers today are discovering that this age-old saying may be even more true that previously thought. “The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was a United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) research initiative to improve understanding of the microbial flora involved in human health and disease”(7). Actually, the human microbiome project is a continuing effort of scientists from across the globe working together to better understand how all of the microbiological members of the immediate human environment (the microbiome) interact with our daily lives. The human microbiome is vast network of trillions of microorganisms that live in and on the human body including bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses(9). According to the National Institute of Health’s website, the human body is made up of 1-3% of microorganisms by mass(1).    Continue reading “Gut Instinct: Brains on Bacteria”

The Scoop on Poop: Possible Links Between Gut Microbes and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Background:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior (NIMH, 2019).  The CDC reports that about 1 in every 59 kids is identified with ASD (CDC, 2019).  It is very common for children with ASD to have some degree of gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain (Hsiao, 2014).  It is estimated that between 30-50% of children with ASD also have GI problems (Buie et al., 2010, McElhanon et al., 2014), but it is unknown why this is and what is causing it.  Scientists have looked into an imbalance of the gut microbiome (all the living organisms, such as bacteria, within the gut) as a potential factor in causing ASD symptoms and have found differences between the gut microbes of ASD children and neurotypical, or ‘normal’, children (children with no mental disabilities) (Finegold et al., 2002, Adams et al., 2011).  The researchers think that reductions in beneficial microbes and increases in harmful microbes could be causing ASD symptoms and associated problems.  However, we lack evidence to determine if the differences in microbes are actually the cause of the ASD symptoms, or if the ASD is causing the differences in microbes. Continue reading “The Scoop on Poop: Possible Links Between Gut Microbes and Autism Spectrum Disorder”

What Did I Eat? Or How Did the Critters in Your Food End Up in Your Gut

Background

They always say that you are what you eat. In recent years, there have been an increasing amount of  studies looking at the various microbes that live in and on you, and how your habits impact them. These large number of microbes are what comprises your microbiome. Understanding how they are impacted by lifestyle is becoming a well studied area of microbiology. Previous studies in this field have shown that certain types of these microbiota can have positive or negative effects on the overall function of an  organism (Human Microbiome Project Phase II). Certain types of microbes have shown to be associated with various diseases of the gut. Many of these microbes have the ability to cause major health concerns among the human population, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, obesity, and autoimmune disease (Pittayanon et al., 2019 and Marietta et al., 2019). 

Being able to characterize our differences based on diet can begin to help us be able to get our microbiomes to a “healthy” state, (what is relatively healthy for the individual, not necessarily an overlapping term for everyone). This will also help with these diseases so they don’t plague the population in such high amounts as they do now. We can potentially do this through looking at the nutrient content within our chosen diets and how that diet relates to the number of microbiota and subsequently how those microbiota impact the body. That’s exactly what the authors of a recent study did (Losasso et al., 2018). Continue reading “What Did I Eat? Or How Did the Critters in Your Food End Up in Your Gut”

Does Gut Microbiota Influence Lipid Metabolism in the Sexes?

Background:

Differences between human males and females can be large or small; one of our largest problems in the more recent years may be influenced by a very small thing, or things rather. It turns out that the microbes living in our gut can affect our metabolism of fats (Eldin et al, 2016), impacting fat storage and digestion in the body.

In the paper by Baars et al (2018), the authors investigated the differences in male and female lipid (fat) metabolism, responsible for the breakdown and storage of fats (Goldberg, 2018),  by looking at their gut microbes. These authors are researching this difference in lipid metabolism based on the previous study done by Sugiyama, M. G. and L. B. Agellon (2012) that suggested that microbes and host sex can influence the metabolism. In this study, the authors are testing whether or not the bacteria in our gut has an effect on the lipid metabolism in our bodies, specifically between males and females. Continue reading “Does Gut Microbiota Influence Lipid Metabolism in the Sexes?”

Little life-forms inside your head!

A little bit of background

What in the world is ADHD you might ask? ADHD stands for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and it is a common mental disorder that is found in school-aged children, but can also affect many adults (Parekh et al. 2017)! Symptoms of ADHD include inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. If you have ever driven a vehicle without power-steering, you might have experienced the vehicle steering less sharply than what was intended by the driver. Some people describe their experience of having ADHD as if their brain is doing this! With ADHD, you might find yourself having to put in a lot more effort in a specific task just to avoid going off of the road. Continue reading “Little life-forms inside your head!”

Moms and Microbiomes: Making the Breast(feeding) Decision

Background

Parents want to know the best ways to protect and maintain their child’s health. Most parents have strong opinions about the best way to ensure their child stays healthy. The decision to breastfeed or use formula is just one example of a highly controversial parenting choice in recent years. Another very contested issue is the maternal diet during pregnancy, which has been found to have lasting impacts on the child’s health. Continue reading “Moms and Microbiomes: Making the Breast(feeding) Decision”

Which came first, antibiotics, or antibiotic-resistance? A study of Uncontacted Amerindians.

The geographical location of the Yanomami tribe as a whole. The specific village exists in the highlighted region.  (Image courtesy of Viralfast)

Background

The Yanomami people are patches of isolated South American tribes who occupy mountainous regions of southern Venezuela. Recently, a Yanomami tribe of 34 subjects discovered by helicopter, was investigated by a team of researchers who accompanied medical care professionals who were providing care to the villagers. These researchers, Clemente et. al. (2015), then wrote the paper, “The microbiome of uncontacted Amerindians” to analyze this population which was uniquely untouched by Western Society. An interesting topic that this research paper addresses is antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic-resistance are the adaptations of a bacterial species in response to antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that have been developed in more recent times to destroy bacteria cells but not human cells. They do this by targeting specific differences between the two types of cells, for instance, penicillin inhibits the synthesis of the peptidoglycan layer of bacterial cell walls a feature not present in animal cells. Other bacteria have distinct DNA replication processes and some antibiotics are able to interrupt that function as well. This Yanomami population is intriguing because their microbiomes are likely the most accurate representation of an ancient human microbiome due to their isolation from the Western world. The presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the Yanomami gut provides evidence for the claim that antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been around since before the invention of antibiotics, so stay tuned for a persuasive evidentiary argument further down. Clemente et. al. also state that the Yanomami population that is sampled is the most diverse microbiome ever recorded. It is important to understand what kind of diversity the researchers are talking about. The Yanomami show extremely high beta diversity when compared to Guahibo, Malawi, and U.S. populations but exhibit low alpha diversity amongst individuals in the village population. Beta diversity represents the differences in species composition among samples while alpha diversity is just the diversity of each sample. This means that the Yanomami microbiome sample is extremely unique but microbiomes within that sample are very similar, this is most likely due to the Yanomami leading vastly different lifestyles than Western societies and individuals in the village being in extremely close quarters with each other (eating the same food, drinking from the same water source, no waste removal, etc.). Continue reading “Which came first, antibiotics, or antibiotic-resistance? A study of Uncontacted Amerindians.”

Mothers with Viral Infection Coupled With Wrong Gut Microbiome Could Lead to Autism in Offspring

Background

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016), between the years 2000 and 2012, autism rates have risen from 1 in 150 children to 1 in 68 children diagnosed with this disorder. This disorder is most often associated with repetitive behaviors and social deficiencies and can be physically characterized by abnormal patches in the brain’s cell arrangements (Kim et al. 2017). Since autism is an increasing problem, researchers are trying to find a cause and solution to control the disorder. Continue reading “Mothers with Viral Infection Coupled With Wrong Gut Microbiome Could Lead to Autism in Offspring”

Alterations of the gut microbiome in multiple sclerosis

Image courtesy of Andreu Prados, Gut Microbiota: Research and Practice. The health and contents of the gut microbiome play a pivotal role in immune function and overall human health.

BACKGROUND

Picture this, you are a field researcher who stumbles upon a population of diseased and mutated humans. These humans live in an environment plagued with disease and pollution. The question you have is whether the mutation in the humans caused the disease/pollution or if the disease/pollution caused the humans to mutate. This question forms the basis of what microbiologists are interested in today; is the gut microbiome causal in the formation of [autoimmune] diseases, or is the microbiota the result of the diseased environment in which they inhabit? Continue reading “Alterations of the gut microbiome in multiple sclerosis”

Individual Response to Drugs May Be Influenced by Your Gut Microbes

You probably know someone – or are someone – who says ‘____ drug just doesn’t work for me.’ or, ‘____ drug really messes me up’. Individual response to drug dosage is a pervasive confounding issue in health care. We know some of the pieces of the puzzle; age, metabolism, activity, and overall health are all factors contributing to individual drug response, but what if your guts have something to do with it, too? Bacteria present in the human gut make up what is called the ‘Human microbiome’, and it is the newest frontier in health research. Continue reading “Individual Response to Drugs May Be Influenced by Your Gut Microbes”