More on the microbiome

When I first got into blogging, I thought I could carve out my niche talking about the microbiome – that enormous ecosystem of trillions living inside and on every one of us. However, it’s become increasingly clear that writers far more skilled than I have also decided to tackle this weighty (2-5lbs on average) subject.

Take this new paper published yesterday in Nature, describing 3 different “enterotypes” – different ways of balancing that ecosystem. I saw it last night in my Nature RSS feed, and was hoping to tackle it today.

But Ed and Carl beat me to it with a couple of stereotypically fantastic pieces.

Ed Yong:

Our gut contains trillions of bacteria, known collectively as the microbiome. Their cells outnumber our own by ten to one. We are, to the closest approximation, thriving communities of bacteria encased in a human shell. No two people have quite the same collection – we differ slightly in the species we contain, and there can be hundreds jostling for space.

But this variation isn’t infinite. Previous studies have shown that once people reach adulthood, their microbiomes become remarkably stable. Even after the communities are rocked by antibiotic assaults, they rebound to their old selves, recruiting members in the same proportions as before. Now, Manimozhiyan Arumugam and Jeroen Raes from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have found that these constraints go even further. There seem to be just three preferred ways of building a community of gut bacteria.

Carl Zimmer:

Whatever the cause of the different enterotypes, they may end up having discrete effects on people’s health. Gut microbes aid in food digestion and synthesize vitamins, using enzymes our own cells cannot make.

Dr. Bork and his colleagues have found that each of the types makes a unique balance of these enzymes. Enterotype 1 produces more enzymes for making vitamin B7 (also known as biotin), for example, and Enterotype 2 more enzymes for vitamin B1 (thiamine).

Part of me is jealous that they’re doing what I was planning to do and doing it better than I would have done. But most of me is grateful that these two are coving this incredibly exciting and fast moving field.

Comments

  1. #1 toby
    April 21, 2011

    One aspect of the human gut microbiome that haven’t seen much about is its bacteriophages. I would expect that they would play an important role (and presumably they are specific to the enterotype), wouldn’t you think?

  2. #2 Kevin
    April 21, 2011

    Hi Toby, there was actually a paper about that last year – Carl Zimmer beat me to that one too.

    It would make sense that they would be influenced by the enterotype (or help establish the enterotype) – there’s certainly a lot still to figure out.

  3. #3 Mike Olson
    April 21, 2011

    Bacteriophages, parasites, soil bacteria used to aid against autoimmune responses…pretty amazing time to be actively working and studying in biology. I know it isn’t your field, but as I’m reading “Biopunk” which covers DIY scienc, having the computing power to unwrap the potential of genomics to help cure diseases is pretty amazing too. At the same time, twenty + years ago, when I heard about clotting factors, erythropoesis, as well as antibodies and antigens within the blood stream…well, suffice to say there is a lot of knowledge to be found with the greater tools available today…Okay, I’ll slow down, you’re young, in a post grad program at an Ivy league school, with a blog which is in the same league as the people you admire. You got it good, I enjoy your work, frankly I don’t frequently read the folks you’ve mentioned(comments are screened and it frequently isn’t as personal).

  4. #4 frank habets
    April 22, 2011

    It’s a grand topic. Having another learned voice be heard is always appreciated. Youz beasties, keep it up.

  5. #5 Kevin
    April 22, 2011

    @ Mike and Frank – Fair enough, but it’s tough to follow up once I’ve read their reports. Do you think I should just link to their posts when I see them (and we can discuss it here?) or would you prefer that I give my own take on it?

  6. #6 Mike Olson
    April 23, 2011

    I’m currently trying to re-learn/remember the math I’ve had in the past. I’ve come to find out that for me, what has worked best was listening to a lecture, taking notes, reading the assignment, doing the exercises, discussing it with others, and if possible teaching others how to do it, or what I understand of it. In short, live it, breathe it, eat it. As is, I currently can’t really do that. So, if I don’t understand something well, or get stuck, rather than simply checking out a text book and a work book, I will check out every relevant text I can find to simply get a different take on it. And this has always helped. Getting several different explanations of the same thing makes it very clear. All that to say: It’d be really, really cool, if you gave the link AND gave your own take on it. I know you want a larger audience and I can’t blame you, but as it stands now, a smaller audience allows for more discussion. Having my comment as 1 of 100 with no real discussion, or worse an argument really sucks. Even in fields in which I’m fairly competent I’m not really interested in being right or proving a point…I’m very interested, insanely interested in understanding the subject at hand to the best of my ability. Having the same subject explained through different people or different authors is fantastic. Getting feedback adds hugely.

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