It seems like we're seeing new research connecting our gut microbiome to a different illness or disease every week, but often the mechanisms behind these connections are unclear. A new study out of the Babraham Institute has now revealed one potential way the good bacteria in our gut can control our gene activity and potentially help prevent colorectal cancer.

The composition of our gut microbiome has been found to have a vast variety of effects over our entire body. We know that bacteria in our gut can affect the activity of certain genes but it's unknown exactly how this mechanism actually works.

A new study from an international team of researchers has uncovered one of these mysterious pathways, illustrating how chemical messages produced by bacteria in the gut can kickstart a process that ultimately turns certain genes on or off.

When certain bacteria in our gut encounter and digest fruit and vegetables, chemicals called short chain fatty acids are produced. As these short chain fatty acids move from the bacteria into cells lining the gut they disrupt the production of a protein called HDAC2, and increase the number of epigenetic chemical markers called crotonylations.

In this new study, mice treated with antibiotics to eliminate much of their gut bacteria were shown to have a higher cellular load of HDAC2 protein than normal. Previous research has shown that an increased expression of HDAC2 in the colon can be linked to colorectal cancer. The hypothesis at this stage is that the activity of gut bacteria is directly regulating the expression of HDAC2 and the volume of crotonylations, which in turn affects the activity of certain genes.

"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," explains first author on the study Rachel Fellows. "Crotonylation is found in many cells but it's particularly common in the gut."

The research offers new targets for future cancer drug development, and also provides greater insight into the ways bacteria in the gut can directly alter the activity of our genes.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.