I couldn’t help cutting and pasting this tantalizing piece of news from another blog http://blog.the-scientist.com/2011/03/14/news-in-a-nutshell-37/
While most the news on gut bacteria these days is good—regulating immunity, for example, and even behavior—new evidence from Africa suggests that these commensal microbes may play a role in the negative consequences of malnutrition. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis studied malnourished children in the African nation of Malawi and found that identical twins with similar diets seldom suffer equally from kwashiorkor—the condition that swells the bellies of malnourished children and makes them more susceptible to disease and death. In fact, in only 7% of more than 300 pairs of twins did both children have the condition, the researchers reported last week at the International Human Microbiome Congress in Vancouver, Canada.
Transplanting gut bacterial communities from twins with and without kwashiorkor into mouse models, the scientists found that mice colonized by bacteria from children with the condition lost more weight on the typical Malawian diet of maize flour and vegetables than mice implanted with bacteria from the healthier twin. Though parasites could also play into kwashiorkor and otherwise worsening the health of some malnourished children, the study yields tantalizing clues that could lead to a regimen of healthy bacteria to supplement nutrient-enriched foods dispersed to the world’s hungry. “Maybe we can do earlier interventions — before they suffer,” Michelle Smith, the Washington University postdoc who presented the preliminary results, told Nature News.
Wow. First of all I totally congratulate the person who noticed that twins were not similarly affected by malnutrition. Secondly, what a fascinating possibility – that our gut flora can be manipulated and tuned to improve nutrition. Perhaps it can be tuned in the opposite direction as well – to derive less nutritive value from the food available – the diet products industry will be all over this one. Here is a link to the slightly more detailed report in Nature News:
The paper was presented at a confrence so there doesn’t seem to be a published version – yet. Stay tuned!
Curious to know more? Here are links to a couple of other related articles on the influence of our gut flora on our nutritional status: