Strength in diversity – mapping healthy microbiome relationships

THE more diverse species in your gut, the better it is for your health, but an international team of researchers, led by Hudson Institute, have now found a way to determine which species are important and how they interact to create a healthy microbiome.

With a new way to look at these gut microbiome relationships, they have opened the door to a new world of medical opportunities for conditions from Inflammatory Bowel Disease to infections, autoimmune diseases and cancers.

Reporting on the news, Live Science explained that “scientists mapped how specific gut microbes interact with each other and form nutritionally dependent communities.” They called this an “atlas” of the gut microbiome.

Live Science said, “The trillions of microbes and viruses that coexist inside and on the surface of the body are collectively known as the microbiome. The largest concentrations of these microbes are found in the gut. Some have been shown to perform helpful roles in the body, such as species of Lactobacillus that can help with digestion, and others, such as toxic strains of Escherichia coli, can cause disease.

“Many microbes survive by consuming nutrients that have been produced by other microbes, and when these interactions break down, it can cause an imbalance between helpful and disease-causing microbes that leads to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, until now, it has been difficult to map out all of these complex interactions.”

Associate Professor Samuel Forster and his team at Hudson Institute and Monash University, working with collaborators from the Institute for Systems Biology in the USA and local collaborators at Monash University and Monash Health, have spent years studying the gut microbiome and working out which species perform which functions to create a healthy microbiome.

Forster says now it’s possible to map not just what species are in the gut microbiome but how they interact and how that can affect the whole body. He said, “There are roughly 1000 different bacterial species in a healthy gut – it’s a microscopic multicultural community with over a trillion individual members.

“Bacteria in our microbiomes exist as communities that rely on each other to produce and share key nutrients between them. We have developed a new computational way to understand these dependencies and their role in shaping a healthy microbiome.”

“This new method unlocks our understanding of the gut microbiome and provides a foundation for new treatment options that selectively remodel microbial communities.”

For example, in Crohn’s Disease, the team confirmed the importance of hydrogen sulphide. They discovered that the most likely cause is loss of bacteria that use hydrogen sulphide, not an increase in species producing it, as was previously believed.

The study’s lead author, Dr Vanessa Marcelino, says new computational way to study gut microbial communities was key to establishing these relationships. She said, “This is a significant step in the development of complex gut microbial therapies. This approach allows us to identify and rank the key interactions between bacteria and use this knowledge to predict targeted ways to change the microbiome community.”

Forster and his team have a long-standing relationship with Adelaide-based biotechnology company BiomeBank, which is working on new ways to treat and prevent disease by restoring gut microbial ecology.

He said, “Through the partnership between the Hudson Institute and BiomeBank, these insights into community structure and a healthy microbiome will provide the opportunity for targeted intervention with rationally selected combinations of microbes.”

Read the paper: Disease-specific loss of microbial cross-feeding interactions in the human gut

Support a practical, investable and inclusive narrative for land use.

Sign-up to receive our newsletter

Newsletter Signup
Contribute for just £2.50 per week
Skip to content