Save the Bacteria?

Science on Tap, which happened in Tel Aviv last Weds. eve, was as great a success as ever. Ariela Saba, one of our Weizmann writers, attended one of the talks. Here is her report:

Right around now – in some 55 bars all around Tel Aviv and Jaffa – Weizmann Institute scientists are starting their talks. Some of the patrons are in the middle of dinner; others are already sipping after-dinner drinks. Here in The Container at the Jaffa port, Dr. Eran Elinav is just warming up. From where I am sitting, I can see into the kitchen: Plates are making their way out laden with fluffy white bread, butter and olives; fish and seafood and Middle Eastern appetizers. From the tables the food will soon be making its way into the stomachs of the diners. As they chew on their bread, fish and vegetables, they will hear Elinav talk about the connection between what they eat, the personal mixture of bacteria they are carrying in their guts, and their health. To demonstrate, he points out that many Japanese host a type of bacterium that is known to break down seaweed better in their digestive systems than in those of people who were not raised on a traditional Japanese diet. Meat eaters have a different mix of gut bacteria than vegetarians. So what you eat might matter less than what happens in your body as your food is digested. You can even stay thin or gain weight from eating lettuce, depending on the amount of sugar that is produced in the meeting taking place between your personal assortment of bacteria and your diet.

On top of shaping our tendency to gain or lose weight, those bacteria can help the body overcome disease. Good bacteria can even be implanted to fight off the harmful ones. Changing the composition of a person’s gut bacteria is much easier that changing his genes; this is one of the reasons that research into these bacteria has attracted so much attention around the world.


By now, most have finished eating and drinking. Now, we are all asking ourselves some questions about bacteria – those microorganisms that live in masses inside our bodies. We start thinking about how they can help, as well as hurt. We think about the future, in which each of us might know our own bacterial makeup and use it to understand what diet works for us. Working toward that future, 400 people have already participated in a study conducted by Elinav and Prof. Eran Segal at the Weizmann Institute, and another 2000 have signed up. And another thing: Those bacteria that aid our health, because their composition is unique to us, could be used like DNA tests and fingerprinting to give away our presence in criminal investigations. And what is left? Sex. In a study done on flies, it was discovered that flies are more attracted to potential mates with similar mixtures of gut bacteria. Could the same be true for humans? Could we fall in love with someone because we are attracted to their bacteria? Only the bacteria know for sure.


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Thank you for this enlightening blog article.
I was fully aware of the good bacteria termed "probiotics" that are present in the colon of the human body, but i was unaware that people had different compositions of bacteria in their bodies.
I found this blog post to be very thought-provoking and inspirational in the sense that it has inspired me to research this topic further and keep this subject matter in mind for future references.

By Carissa.M 14071348 (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

Carissa, I think that once we start to realize to what extent our gut bacteria affect everything from our health to our mental state, we even start thinking about how we perceive our "selves." So inspirational is not too strong a word. thanks

Who knew that there was so much more to the bacteria in our gut other than their well known characteristic of aiding in our digestive process. I do hope that more research will be done to discover ways in which we can use the bacteria to our advantage because this could potentially improve and even save lives.
What I wanted to know was that is one able to change the composition of one's gut bacteria by simply changing one's diet?

By u14130263 (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

Wow! I truly never knew that every person had different gut bacteria, although it makes a lot of sense! And apparently it can change as well. This makes sense in why some people can eat certain foods en others not. And why foods help some people loose weight and for others it has an opposite effect.

Thanks for the post!

By Neria Moolman … (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

I have an intolerance to quite a number of foods and this topic therefore is of great interest to me and I would welcome solid future research linking specific gut disorders with bacterial composition. I recently conducted a research assignment regarding the connection between food and mood. This research showed what effect different types of foods had on a person’s mood. After reading this article I see that the link between foods affecting people’s moods could possibly be due to the bacterial composition of the person’ gut who consumes the food and not only because of the bacterial composition of the food which they are consuming.

By Alexandra, 14123402 (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

I keep on finding new interesting stuff about the human body.Not only that they cause some illness to us but they are also crucial to our health.It is interesting to note that any amount of food you eat can instigate weight gain.It is all clear to me now,most individuals eat a lot but no change in their weight is observed this is all because of their bacteria.Some other interesting stuff is noted sex,Is there any high probability that what happens to flies also happens to humans?There is still much to discover about the bacterium.

There could be something to it, though of course, human mating behavior is much more complex than that of a fruit fly. But other research has shown that you are more likely to be attracted to someone whose immune cells are similar to yours, and we know your gut bacteria play a role in shaping your immune system. On the other hand, if you are more attracted to someone who has similar gut bacteria for digesting seaweed to your own, it may mean that you are both Japanese and are simply attracted to people who are physically similar to you. That is one reason why it is easier to do these experiments in fruit flies -- and why the results may not apply in the same way to humans.

This article has really brought new information to light for me.. I was fascinated by the fact that each of us has a bacterial 'profile' and that there is a relation between them... it would be interesting to see if these profiles can be used as an identifier. however i do believe that it will need a database of people for it to work.

By u14083389 (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

To be honest I haven't heard of gut bacteria before now. Of course I knew there are bacteria inside the human body, but I never knew that these bacteria have this big influence on our health and well being. Yet, I don't think that we fall in love with someone because we are attracted to their bacteria. Surely these gut bacteria do not determine our likes, dislikes, values and personalities. Our genetic composition is responsible for these factors. Once we know our bacterial makeup, we can only determine what diet is suitable for our bodies. This do not influence the characteristics we use to find the potential mate to fall in love with.

By Suane Truter 1… (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

So bacteria also contributes this much? even finding the love of your life.Thank you for this I have a reason to page books about bacteria in human bodies.I am also inspired.

By u14043042 (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink

This sure is interesting. They should do research and bring out a new diet- eat according to your bacteria!! I don't think a lot af people are aware of the extent of bacteria's role in our lives. Maybe some diseases could also be avoided if we did more research on this topic.

The idea of inserting good bacteria to kill the bad bacteria seems like a good one. This might be able to improve health care in the future as so many people are beginning to become resistant to antibiotics. Although it might be difficult to keep making new antibiotics, it may be easier to keep genetically modifying the helpful bacteria to fight off the harmful bacteria. I hadn't thought of this before but it seems like a whole new field of disease management could open up from this research.

By Claire Viljoen… (not verified) on 05 May 2014 #permalink

u13123123 This is very interesting, surely a different approach to our stereotypical knowledge of bacteria. Not only has this been interesting but very much educational.

By u13123123 Mapu… (not verified) on 05 May 2014 #permalink