Health & Wellbeing

Seaweed diet reveals potential for precision manipulation of gut bacteria

Seaweed-eating gut bacteria could be the first step towards a future of new precision medicine where diet can turn on or off different engineered parts of our microbiome
Seaweed-eating gut bacteria could be the first step towards a future of new precision medicine where diet can turn on or off different engineered parts of our microbiome
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Seaweed-eating gut bacteria could be the first step towards a future of new precision medicine where diet can turn on or off different engineered parts of our microbiome
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Seaweed-eating gut bacteria could be the first step towards a future of new precision medicine where diet can turn on or off different engineered parts of our microbiome

Finding ways to manipulate the massive population of bacteria living inside our gut is turning out to be a tricky proposition for medical researchers. The ecology of our microbiome is enormously complex and we are only just learning of the broad effect gut bacteria has on our overall health.

A new study by a team at Stanford University has successfully shown how diet can be used to help propagate a specific species of gut bacteria. The research is an early step towards a future of precision medicine that can modulate the gut microbiome to help treat a variety of diseases and improve overall health.

"We're all endowed with a microbial community in our guts that assembled in a chaotic manner during our first few years of life," says Justin Sonnenburg, an author on the new study. "Although we continue to acquire new strains throughout life, this acquisition is a poorly orchestrated and not-well-understood process. This study suggests it could be possible to reshape our microbiome in a deliberate manner to enhance health and fight disease."

Until now, probiotics have generally been the most traditional way to modulate a person's gut microbiome. Essentially this means we consume certain strains of good bacteria to help maintain good health or treat conditions such as depression or allergies. But the team at Stanford wanted to understand how our diets could be altering the population of bacteria in our gut and whether consuming specific foods could help propagate certain bacterial strains.

To begin, the team tracked down a specific strain of gut bacteria that feeds on a carbohydrate called porphyran. This carbohydrate is found in seaweed often used in sushi rolls and the bacteria is perfect for study as seaweed is an ingredient rare in American diets.

"The genes that allow a bacterium to digest porphyran are exceedingly rare among humans that don't have seaweed as a common part of their diet," explains Sonnenburg. "This allowed us to test whether we could circumvent the rules of complex ecosystems by creating a privileged niche that could favor a single microbe by allowing it to exist in the absence of competition from the 30 trillion other microbes in the gut."

Further studies with different mouse models showed that levels of this bacteria in an animal's microbiome could be effectively manipulated by feeding them different volumes of seaweed. Excitingly, these levels could be precisely calibrated by simply increasing or decreasing the amount of porphyran-rich food ingested.

"The results of this dilution experiment blew us away," says Sonnenburg. "The direct effect of diet on the bacterial population was very clear."

The researchers then isolated the specific genes in the bacteria that enabled it to effectively digest porphyran. These genes were then transferred to another strain of the same bacteria without the same ability. In subsequent mouse models levels of the newly engineered bacteria were then effectively manipulated, again simply through diet.

What this research ultimately hopes to lead to is the development of a type of precision medicine whereby specific beneficial bacteria can be delivered to patients and then have its activity easily switched on or off through simple dietary measures.

"A physician whose patient is about to begin immunotherapy for cancer may choose to also administer a bacterial strain known to activate the immune system, for example," suggests Sonnenburg. "Conversely, a patient with an autoimmune disease may benefit from a different set of microbiota that can dial down an overactive immune response. They are just a very powerful lever to modulate our biology in health and disease."

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Source: Stanford University

5 comments
BrianK56
I just read an article on walnuts having the same effect, I think I will stick with them.
Douglas E Knapp
So science has found that diet makes us healthy or unhealthy depending on what we eat? Next they will find out and be shocked that not eating animal products makes people better able to meditate (Please don't tell the buddha that).
KungfuSteve
Douglas E. Knapp - You are wrong. Ive ate meat / animal product all my life. I also dedicated 3 yrs to daily 1hr meditation sessions. I achieved "Quiet Mind" state in like 3 months time... and somewhere near the 3rd year, had an actual "waking-nirvana" experience. Not only are you wrong about animals and meditation... but you also show... through the negative tone and attitude of your post... that you are FAR from being anywhere near an "Enlightened" state of being. The universe shows its truth in patterns. Balance is one of the ultimate truths. Extremism in any form... is not balance, and easily reveals itself as unhealthy. Your mind / thoughts / feelings / Soul ...is filled with negativity, anger / animosity, discontentment, hostility, and harsh judgement... as well as Ignorance. I highly suggest you spend less time spreading your toxicity around... and more time spend repairing yourself internally. Washing the negativity and toxicity away, with Love (God). Also I suggest you actually spend time learning how to actually meditate, and try a few different methods, for some time periods. Sadly, Ive ran into so many.. like yourself.. .that thing that Meditation is the same thing as simply letting your mind wander freely. Its Not! Its the exact opposite, in fact. But... so many people are so Egocentric... as to always assume that they are 100% correct, every time. >__< Making up their own false reality... to cushion their massive but Fragile Egos. Actual Reality... is way too painful, for these Narcissistic Personality Disordered Snowflakes. Truth: Animals eat each other... often eating them alive, without any real concern for pain and suffering. Unlike many humans... they rarely take any steps to make the kills any less painful, traumatic, nor shorter in duration. If an animal is hungry, and it has the chance... that animal will eat you too. As will bugs, rodents, biological / natural / chemical... and much more. Life isnt some fake Disney movie (propaganda programming). Then again... Physical reality... is pretty much an Illusion. The soul is Eternal.. living countless reincarnations... across infinite alternate realities. The Physical Universe, is the "Playground", for the Soul. It is the Ultimate Gift. There is no real Death... as death is ultimately just a Transitional state.
EZ
To KunfuSteve. For someone who professes enlightenment, you also display a fair amount of hostility. I thought "live and let live" was the goal of meditation.
Colt12
Getting closer to the perfect cocktail of gut microbes to keep us healthy. No drugs will be needed when this is achieved.