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Gut microbes' partnership helps body extract energy from food, store it as fat

dramatically affected gene activity in B. thetaiotaomicron, shifting its appetite to a more abundant class of polysaccharides known as fructans. Commonly found in Western diet, fructans are used as food sweeteners. This taste change increased B. thetaiotaomicron's ability to produce energy for itself, and to make energy available in forms that the mouse could absorb and use.

The result was that mice colonized with both organisms had significantly more fat than animals colonized with either microbe alone. M. smithii also benefited ?thanks to B. thetaioatomicron, it received increased amounts of formate, a product of polysaccharide fermentation that it covets and uses.

"The presence M. smithii improved the overall efficiency of the digestive system," Gordon says. "It remains to be established whether we can intentionally manipulate this gut archaeon to improve digestive health. It will also be interesting to see if levels of M. smithii in the gut microbial community vary in obese versus lean individuals."

Gordon says the results emphasize the need to consider the nutrient value of the foods we consume in the context of the digestive capacity of our individual gut microbial communities. To help address such questions, Gordon and his colleagues are completing the sequence of the M. smithii genome and sequencing the genomes of many other members of the normal human gut microbial community. This effort is part of a human gut "microbiome" project.

"We believe that this project is a logical extension of the human genome project ?one designed to define the microbial side of ourselves," Gordon says. "This project should help answer a number of fundamental questions, including: How different are our individual gut microbiomes? How are our gut microbiomes evolving as a function of changes in our diet, lifestyle and environment? And can we use this knowledge to improve our personal health, including, for example, optimizing the performance of
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Source:Washington University School of Medicine


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