2016’s top advancements in gut microbiome science

2016 was an important year for the Gut Microbiota for Health (GMFH) platform – we got a makeover! The GMFH team was proud to launch a new site on February 1st of last year, becoming the largest online ecosystem focusing on gut microbiota.

Our new site has both a News Watch section – for explaining cutting-edge gut microbiota science in easy-to-understand language (English, French, and Spanish) – and a Research & Practice section – for promoting knowledge-sharing among scientists and healthcare professionals. The new-and-improved website achieved record numbers of visitors, with almost 35,000 hits per month. Our community of Twitter followers, Linkedin followers, Facebook fans, and newsletter recipients now numbers more than 40,000!

With the volume of gut microbiota research being published, this year our team had a lot to cover! We brought you blog posts, new infographics, videos, and an abundance of new content in two new sections (Resources and Media Centre).

The GMFH team covered some important events in 2016 that brought together gut microbiota scientists, industry, and other experts in the field: our own Gut Microbiota for Health World Summit in Miami (USA), the 17th International Congress of Dietetics in Granada (Spain), where where we learned the microbiota is a growing subject of interest for dietitians’ daily practice, and the 24th UEG Week for gastroenterologists in Vienna (Austria). We also attended the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation’s “Discover the world within” event for healthcare professionals in Toronto (Canada) and the Harvard Probiotics Symposium in Boston (USA), focusing on metabolic health and the gut-brain axis. Our platform was also recognized as the “ConSalud Initiative of the Year”, receiving this Spanish award for the year’s most outstanding programme focused on health, and selected as one of the best blogs on gut health in 2016 in Healthline list.

 

Here are our editors’ picks for some of the most remarkable areas of advancement this year in gut microbiome science:

Obesity and metabolic health

Scientists know gut microbiota plays a role in obesity, but previously the research comparing obese and lean individuals had been focused on the ratio of two groups of bacteria: Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes. This year, the research focused in on specific influential species and bacterial metabolites. For instance, researchers recently found that the intestinal bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila improved metabolic health in mice, but also in humans with excess body weight and metabolic syndrome. More human trials will help researchers figure out if indeed this could be turned into a new therapeutic for obesity.

Molecules produced by bacteria, such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), have also been studied in the context of obesity. Research this year showed in mice that the SCFA acetate is involved in communicating with the brain to change digestion and to increase food intake. More studies in both animals and humans are needed in order to find out how this ultimately influences health.

 

Gut-brain axis

The role of gut bacteria in the communication between the enteric nervous system (ENS) – the intestines’ own nervous system – and brain neurons has continued to be a hot topic of study. The ‘gut-brain axis’ is leading to insights beyond the gut. Recent studies have provided more clues about the role of gut bacteria in Parkinson’s disease (PD), showing in mice that gut bacteria from humans with PD worsened motor symptoms. Also in mice, a certain species of gut bacteria was shown to affect social interactions, supporting the idea that probiotics should be further investigated in the treatment of some autism-associated behaviours.

 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Scientists already knew that certain genes were important in predisposing individuals to IBD, but advances this year showed that the way genes could influence IBD-related inflammation is by influencing the gut microbiota. Besides this, it has been confirmed that fungi are as relevant as bacteria in individuals with IBD (see more). And when it comes to predicting the progression towards complicated IBD, new work showed that antibodies produced by the body against microorganisms could lead to insights that could improve diagnosis (see more).

 

Nutrition

Benefits of gut microbiota on health are at least partly attributable to molecules produced when bacteria ferment dietary fibre. A low-fibre diet may lead to irreversible depletion of bacteria living in the gut, an effect that, in mouse studies, lasted through the fourth generation of animals. These results emphasize the need to consider revising our current dietary fibre recommendations to encourage more fibre consumption.

The first 100 days of life appear to be crucial for training a baby’s immune system, and the right bacteria are needed. Human breast milk is often the first food for an infant’s microbiota and recent research has found that non-digestible sugars (oligosaccharides) in breast milk may stimulate gut bacteria that play a key role in children’s growth.

Several factors, including the mom’s diet and mode of birth, may have an impact on the early life microbiota. Results this year showed that a high-fat diet during pregnancy is associated with changes in the baby’s gut microbiome at birth that last up to 6 weeks of age. In fact, some scientists argue the mother’s diet during pregnancy may turn out to have bigger consequences for infant health than whether the infant was born vaginally or by Caesarean section.

Personalization of diet has also been a theme in gut microbiota research this year. Scientists from Israel conducted a large study that found gut microbiota helped predict which foods would spike individuals’ blood sugar; based on measurements of gut microbiota for each person, they were able to use computer algorithms to develop personalized diets that kept blood sugar more stable after meals.

 

In 2017, the GMFH platform will continue to cover the important advancements in what we know about the gut microbiota. The community will gather in Paris next March to learn more about gut microbiota and health at the 6th edition of the GMFH World Summit.

Stay tuned in the year ahead!

GMFH Editing Team
GMFH Editing Team