A new research field has emerged over recent years demonstrating the relevance of gut microbes on the human body. Researchers at King’s College London and Cornell University have now demonstrated that obesity is regulated by the type of gut bacteria inhabiting the gut.
They study consisted of sequencing the genes of microbes found in more than 1,000 fecal samples from 416 pairs of twins. The abundances of specific types of microbes were found to be more similar in identical twins, who share 100 per cent of their genes, than in non-identical twins, who share on average only half of the genes that vary between people. These findings demonstrate that genes influence the composition of gut microbes.
The type of bacteria whose abundance was most heavily influenced by host genetics was a recently identified family called ‘Christensenellaceae’. Members of this health-promoting bacterial family were more abundant in individuals with a low body weight than in obese individuals. Moreover, mice that were treated with this microbe gained less weight than untreated mice, suggesting that increasing the amounts of this microbe may help to prevent or reduce obesity.
‘Our findings show that specific groups of microbes living in our gut could be protective against obesity — and that their abundance is influenced by our genes. The human microbiome represents an exciting new target for dietary changes and treatments aimed at combating obesity. ‘Twins have been incredibly valuable in uncovering these links — but we now want to promote the use of microbiome testing more widely in the UK through the British Gut Project. This is a crowd-sourcing experiment that allows anyone with an interest in their diet and health to have their personal microbes tested genetically using a simple postal kit and a small donation via our website (www.britishgut.org). We want thousands to join up so we can continue to make major discoveries about the links between our gut and our health” said Professor Tim Spector, Head of the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London.
Julia K. Goodrich, Jillian L. Waters, Angela C. Poole, Jessica L. Sutter, Omry Koren, Ran Blekhman, Michelle Beaumont, William Van Treuren, Rob Knight, Jordana T. Bell, Timothy D. Spector, Andrew G. Clark, Ruth E. Ley. Human Genetics Shape the Gut Microbiome. Cell, 2014; 159 (4): 789 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.053