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This is how biodiversity in the intestinal flora protects health


HZI: Biodiversity of good intestinal bacteria keeps us healthy

The importance of the intestinal flora for our health has increasingly become the focus of research in recent years. Above all, strengthening the immune defense through healthy intestinal bacteria offers interesting starting points from a medical point of view. How the beneficial intestinal bacteria strengthen the immune system has so far remained largely unclear. The short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which is formed by intestinal bacteria, seems to play a special role here.

"The short-chain fatty acid butyrate is formed by intestinal bacteria and is the main source of energy for the intestinal cells," reports the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI). Butyrate is an important factor in keeping people healthy because it strengthens the intestinal epithelium and stabilizes the local immune system. In a recent study, the HZI researchers have now developed a way to identify butyrate-forming groups of bacteria in the gut microbiome. They published their results in the specialist magazine "mSystems".

Crucial butyrate

"The researchers were able to show that an average of over 20 different butyrate-forming species can be found in a person's intestine, which can adapt to different environmental conditions in order to maintain human health as a whole," said the HZI. According to the researchers, the special short-chain fatty acid butyrate has far-reaching effects on human health. A chronic lack of butyrate is linked to diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

Which bacteria can form butyrate?

The bacteria that produce butyrate are therefore of particular interest in current microbiome research, which so far has mainly focused on the study of individual types of bacteria. However, the HZI scientists, according to their own statements, have now succeeded in developing a "workflow" "that allows the large variety of intestinal bacteria that can form butyrate to be discovered and thus the entire butyrate-producing potential of complex bacterial communities to be researched. "

Gut flora opens up additional energy sources

The scientists explain that the fiber that is ingested with food is broken down in the large intestine by the local bacterial community, among other things, into short-chain fatty acids. In this way, the intestinal flora opens up a source of energy for the human body that it cannot use with its own resources. The fatty acids formed cover more than 70 percent of the energy metabolism of the epithelial cells of the intestine, the HZI researchers continue. Butyrate, the salt of butyric acid, is the most important energy source for the intestinal cells.

Understand biodiversity of intestinal bacteria

According to the scientists, butyrate produced by microorganisms is essential for maintaining health. In addition to feeding the intestinal cells, it also controls the immune defenses of the intestine and also influences various metabolic pathways throughout the body, for example in the liver or brain. Given their health-promoting effects, there is great medical interest in identifying the butyrate-forming bacterial communities. "The researchers want to better understand their biodiversity and ecology in the different areas of the intestine," reports the HZI.

Butyrate deficiency increases the risk of illness

According to Dr. Marius Vital, scientist in the HZI working group "Microbial Interactions and Processes", has linked a chronic deficiency of butyrate in various previous studies "with the occurrence of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular diseases." Chronic butyrate deficiency also increases the risk of infectious diseases in the intestine.

Consider the performance of the entire bacterial community

According to the expert, the butyrate-producing community in the intestine consists of many strains of bacteria and forms a biochemically diverse group. Several types of bacteria are involved, "especially different firmicutes and also some bacteriodetes." However, "the functional performance of the entire bacterial community in the intestine is often neglected, which makes a comprehensive analysis of butyrate formation difficult."

Identify functional types of bacteria

The HZI reports that the scientists have now developed a method to quantify and identify the composition of the butyrate formers in detail and to analyze their biochemical and taxonomic diversity. Using the information from various publicly available data sets of patients with various diseases such as diabetes, obesity or cirrhosis, the researchers were able to identify key ecological characteristics of the functional bacterial community and obtained important information about their role in human health.

An average of 20 butyrate-forming bacteria in the intestinal flora

According to the researchers, each person has an average of 20 types of bacteria in the intestinal flora that are able to form butyrate. The studies have shown that "many bacteria produce the fatty acid that is so important to us," emphasizes Dr. Vital. The large biodiversity of butyrate-forming bacteria helps to maintain functional stability of the intestinal microbiome in everyday life and also to reduce gross disorders such as antibiotic treatment.

Diet influences the intestinal flora considerably

According to the researchers, diet also has an impact on the presence of butyrate-forming bacteria. This shows a higher presence of the bacteria in a plant-based diet than in the excessive consumption of meat-containing foods. The evaluation of the data also confirmed "that a deficiency in butyrate-forming bacteria is associated with various common diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis or obesity," the HZI said. The researchers hope that the current findings could help to develop individually tailored drugs to prevent functional dysbiosis (lack of health-promoting functions that endanger the different types of bacteria) and thus reduce the incidence of diseases. (fp)

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