Bacteria & Probiotics

A Body of Germs: Understanding the Molecular Mysteries of the Microbiome

There are more bacterial cells in your body than there are human cells. While they might only weigh around a kilogram, researchers are learning that this community of cells in the body, called the microbiome, have a significant impact on our health. There are microbiomes in almost every exposed duct and cavity in your body, but perhaps the best-researched is the one in your gut. “Beneficial” (symbiotic) bacteria in our digestive tracts help us digest food completely, respond to toxins, and keep our intestinal cells healthy.

You’ve probably seen “probiotic” (for-bacteria) supplements in the aisles of your local drug or food store. They are capsules or yogurts containing literally billions of live bacteria that when ingested can elicit positively influences on the cells of your intestines. The use of beneficial bacteria to promote health is widely practiced. However, experimental evidence confirming the efficacy of many bacteria provided with such claims is limited.

Rheinallt Jones, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Emory Gnotobiotic Animal Core, has focused his research not only on finding these bacteria, but discovering how they interact with host cells at the cellular and molecular level — leading “the second wave” of research on the microbiome, as Jones calls it.

Rheinallt Jones
Rheinallt Jones

Jones’ research group tested scores of potential probiotics and identified one highly beneficial bacteria named Lactococcus lactis cremoris. They generated compelling experimental evidence confirming the efficacy of this bacteria in a pre-clinical models. The initial discovery of this new probiotic was done using the Drosophila animal model where they found that the bacteria elicited potent cytoprotective activity in the gut. Then, using the murine model, they also demonstrated that the same strain confers powerful cytoprotective and anti-inflammatory activity in a model of inflammatory bowel disease.

Bacteria
Bacteria

The researchers continued the studies and identified additional benefits of Lactococcus lactis cremoris on other organs of the body. Strikingly, they discovered that this probiotic significantly lowers Western-style diet-induced weight gain, hepatic steatosis, cholesterol levels, glucose intolerance, inflammation and body mass index.

But after discovering the beneficial bacteria, however, it’s still a matter of finding out how exactly they work. Jones’ lab has already defined the molecular signaling pathway whereby other probiotics elicit their beneficial effects, and are currently defining the beneficial mechanism of action of the new L. lactis probiotic.

Probiotics are considered dietary supplements by the FDA, meaning that supplements with proven efficacy can get on the market fast. In a world where hyper-processed foods have damaging effects on the natural gut microbiome making us more susceptible to inflammation, ingestion of probiotic supplements like L. lactis can help tip the scales back in our body’s favor.

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