Gut microbial species work in teams to perform different functions. [Photo: Bigstock]

New evidence shows gut bacteria work in teams

9 October, 2019

Health News — Teamwork is key for the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut and this has a big impact on our overall health and well-being.

The human gut is home to bacteria that help us digest our food, produce vitamins and perform many other tasks that influence our health.

But while most research focuses on benefits from individual microbial species, new research from Kings College London, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows that gut microbial species work in teams to perform different functions. This takes our understanding of the microbiome into a whole new direction, suggesting that cultivating certain groups of bacteria is more important than single species.

The researchers studied the gut bacteria, blood and stool of over a thousand twins who take part in TwinsUK. This allowed the team to run the first large study on the link between gut bacterial species, their functions and the metabolism in the gut and blood of the participants.

The team found that while unrelated people share only 43% of gut bacteria species, they still share 82% of functions carried out by groups of gut bacteria. This is because different bacterial species can contribute to the same function and so different groups can work together to can carry out similar activities.

They then measured hundreds of molecules in the gut and in the bloodstream – representative of microbial and human metabolism – and checked if their abundance was more strongly linked to the presence of particular microbial species or the microbial functions performed by microbial teams.

Again, microbial functions were found to be more important than single microbes, as they showed a larger number of associations with the molecular composition of both gut and blood environments.

A new focus

This research therefore suggests that health treatments designed to target gut bacteria – and our metabolism – should focus on groups of gut bacteria that carry out a particular function, rather than individual bacterial species.

Lead author Dr Mario Falchi, senior lecturer of Bioinformatics at King’s College London, explained:

“We can think of our gut bacteria like Lego bricks – the colour of the bricks doesn’t matter as much compared with how they fit together to make something. With gut bacteria, the individual species don’t matter as much as the group working together to carry out a function.”

“This is the first large study to explore the metabolic potential of the entire gut bacteria ecosystem. Our findings underline the importance of studying groups of bacteria and their functions overall, rather than focusing on specific species. These results add to the growing body of evidence that gut bacteria are intrinsically linked with human health.”

Falchi and colleagues suggest that an extensive dialog goes on between the gut environment and our blood and that 93% of this dialog involves microbial functions. This, they say, which may explain why gut microbes are so strongly linked to our health.