The human gut is teeming with microbes, each interacting with one another in a mind-boggling network of positive and negative exchanges. Some produce substances that serve as food for other microbes, while others produce toxins – antibiotics – that kill their neighbors.
Scientists have been challenged trying to understand how this collection of gut microbes – known as the microbiome – is formed, how it changes over time and how it is affected by disturbances like antibiotics used to treat illnesses. A new study from Ophelia Venturelli, a biochemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and her collaborators at the University of California, Berkeley, may help alleviate some of that difficulty.
Published on June 21 in Molecular Systems Biology, the study provides a platform for predicting how microbial gut communities work and represents a first step toward understanding how to manipulate the properties of the gut ecosystem. This could allow scientists to, for example, design a probiotic that persists in the gut or tailor a diet to positively influence human health.
“We know very little about the ecological interactions of the gut microbiome,” Venturelli says. “Many studies have focused on cataloging all of the microbes present, which is very useful, but we wanted to try to understand the rules governing their assembly into communities, how stability is achieved, and how they respond to perturbations as well.”
Read more about this research at the press release below.