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You Are What Microbes You Eat
Date:4/7/2010

Japanese guts contain seaweed-scarfing bacteria, but North American guts don't, study finds,,

WEDNESDAY, April 7 (HealthDay News) -- The trillions of microbes in the human intestinal tract that help everything from digesting food to fending off pathogens may differ from culture to culture because of variations in diet, researchers now report.

The finding stems from a study of marine microbiology by researchers in France, who identified genes in a microbe found on decomposing seaweed that enables it to consume the seaweed. When they put genetic information into an international gene-sequencing database, they found that the gene is not only present in other marine species but in a microbe that resides in the guts of people in Japan.

Yet they could find no evidence that the microbe, Bacteroides plebeius, had ever been identified in the microbiota, or community of microorganisms, in the guts of people in North America.

"Gut microbiota are shaped by our nutrition, and what energy we take up from our nutrition is shaped by gut microbiota," said study co-author Mirjam Czjzek, a group leader in the marine plants and biomolecules department at the French National Center for Scientific Research. "This clearly is an important factor to be aware of for health."

At some unknown point in history, microbes that reside in the Japanese tract probably snatched up genes from seaweed passing through the large intestine, explained Justin Sonnenburg, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Sonnenburg wrote an article accompanying the study, which is published in the April issue of Nature.

Those microbes then had an advantage over other microbes because they could digest seaweed, which helped them thrive, Sonnenburg said.

Having a microbe that is adept at digesting seaweed presumably makes the Japanese better able to extract calories fr
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